Updated: Mar 18, 2020
For more than 2000 years, most of Western Judah-Christian culture (and to some degree Buddhist and Hindu religions) have been playing with the religious concepts of Heaven and Hell. ‘Hell’ being a hot, painful existence full of sinful souls (Images of fire, hunger, sickness, and torture are common), while ‘heaven’ is some sort of eternal blissful existence. Modern culture has come a long way to de-mystify these ideas, shifting them (for many) from the concrete (“If I am a sinner or if I collect negative Karma, I may find myself in a hell realm”) to the metaphorical and psychosocial domains of life (“I am living hell right now… I need to see my therapist”).
However, for the first time in human history, there is a real possibility that our stories of ‘Hell’ (be it religious or metaphorical) might become a concrete reality. Not after we die, or just as a psychological state of mind, but as a lived apocalyptic experience in our day to day life: With climate change already having significant impact, and the wide spreading Covid 19 virus, we might be changing the earth into a literal ‘living hell.’
The earth (once again, literally!) is heating up. The average temperatures around the globe are rising; There are more fires, storms, outbreaks, pandemics and other abnormal phenomenon:
“Climate change is making extreme weather more severe and, in some cases, more common…Mega-storms like Hurricane Harvey have gone from occurring once every 100 years, to once every 16 years. In drier areas, global warming is linked with longer, more extreme, and more frequent droughts, and a longer fire season. In the American West, fire season may last all year” (Union of Concerned Scientists).
Although none of us know how bad things are about to get, we can see the effects of the crisis in every major region of the world. We can also witness the fragility of life and of our systems when major outbreaks like covid 19 hit major cities and growing amounts of countries.
And while our worst ecological fears are taking form (and because of it), more and more people are awakening to the possibility of creating some sort of ecological and sustainable future:
“There is a need for collaborative environments where experimentation with new configurations of social–ecological systems can occur, and we refer to these as transformative spaces” (Pereira, et. al, 2019).
“The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.” (UN).
So, the original duality of hell and heaven is now taking its place in the battle grounds of culture as our mythology of 'hell' and the potential of ‘heaven’ are both coming to life all around us.
Now, most of us understand that any kind of hysteria around the end of the world OR the utopian dream of creating a ‘heaven on earth’ are always a dangerous (and childish) slippery slope to cult like behaviours. However, we must admit that there is something fascinating about our current unfolding that demands our full attention to choose: We are now not just metaphorically (or religiously) in a dual struggle between these forces, but in a possibility that we are heading toward a critical choice between them for future generations.
This kind of manifestation of our innermost psychological struggles (and splits) and to some degree our religious archetypes in real life are unprecedented! Never had there been a moment in history where religious prophecies have actually come to be so accurate and had a direct impact on people’s lives.
Bizarrely, we are actualizing (or manifesting?) our religious mythologies in ways that are both terrifying and potentially imperative to our survival as a specie, where our daily choices between living in the unfolding of the climate change crisis (‘hell’) or trying to make a (good enough) ‘heaven’ has tangible consequences, not just theologian projections.
And thus, we are put in a place where we do not need to agree or disagree on the doctrine of hell, because we are dealing with the facts of it actually happening. It might be that the actualization of this religious concept in our day to day life (and not in the after life, so to speak) is a collective (unconscious?) drive to awake — not only ourselves — but the whole organism called planet earth.
Awake to what? To an adaptive way of understanding our place in the world.
A new story is needed
If our crisis has any merit, it may lay in its power to galvanize us to create wider collaborative stories and take action in ways we rarely have done in the past. From this view, we can begin to see our ecological crisis as a tragic yet rare opportunity to unite what has been fragmented: Our psychological longings (and needs) with action based living; The dependent, individualistic way of being with the interdependent nature of life; Our unique spiritual or religious point of view with science — In what may be our last chance to wake up to our personal agency and our collective responsibility as and for the planet.
I am going to suggest that this weaving of perspectives and stories can be perceived as a new testament (yes, I went there). A covenant with the earth that is bigger than any specific religion(s), nation(s) or beliefs system. A perspective that is of the earth and for the earth — Where we serve a common ground to survival, belong, love and connect. A new testament that is non-central and therefore does not carry the classical hierarchies of the great traditions, but still holds the passion and commitment of the religious awe. A tangible way of being that is less invested in the after life, enlightenment or salvation but in building a new earth.
So instead of fighting over dogma and the different mythologies that people and culture hold, we get to implement it right here, right now, because if we don’t, the prophecies of the religions (we don’t believe in), might just come true.
In this new testament, the ‘Messiah’ (Buddha mind, spirit, I don’t really care how you call it) is not a person but each and every group of people who chooses to be a point of light, and is willing to hold a bigger and wider story of who they are and what they need to be doing next:
It is an ‘indestructible Messiah’ because it is not one man, woman or spirit, but a quality of being that lives in and through these points of light. It is indestructible because no one person can claim it or kill it. The time of the personal saviour or guru is done (And with it, I believe, a need for a bigger story than the ‘hero’s journey’). We then learn to slowly take responsibility for not only our actions, but the actions of the collectives we are part of (on a local, national or global scale).
It is a ‘Messiah of diversity’ as these points of light are not one idea or belief but the true explosion of the vast creative force of God as you understand it (or not, that’s cool too). It is multifaceted because you can still serve your God, your beliefs system (including being an atheist) while being willing to take a step toward greater connections for the sake of our most epic of moments. This is a new emerging spirit of “us” that does not negate the self, but embraces it whole-heartedly.
It is the ‘Messiah of WeAre,’ as this emerging realization can only happen in collective, interconnected and collaborative spaces as it cannot be (fully) grasped by the individual — No one person (perspective) can hold the complex, wonderful, and rich awakening that is needed. It is the next manifestation of divine love that includes all that was before. This is not (only) about your spiritual awakening, nor about my reduced suffering. It is a post individual ‘we’ — including, transcending and expanding into what is (still) not in existence.
For this to work, the vision must be strongly planted in individuals that are willing to see beyond disagreements, perspectives, values and belief systems. Because what we need is to to adapt, not only transform as individuals. And this adaptation can only happen within groups and communities.
One of the most powerful and relevant stories for our times is the Ark. So many can hear the call, just as Noah did to build a container to keep them ‘alive’ (spiritually, psychologically, and physically) in a divisive and fragile world.
Like in the biblical story, we are the old world dying. We are also God’s wrath that wishes to destroy it; We are the person trying to defend the old and failing to do so; And we are also the builders of the Ark — Unwilling to believe that this is really happening and knowing it must be so.
The Ark is a container for transformation in your community. It is how you can learn to let the old world(s) die, and how you can co-create the emerging new. In these transformative times, people and communities must prepare themselves for the changes they are going to be faced with, and in order to do so, need to have the outlook, wisdom and practice to build their own “arks” (each community and it’s own edges and unique struggles and thus its own ark).
The experience of a ‘flood’ coming is slowly becoming a reality for many. In culture, economy and in ecology. It might transform us slowly or rapidly, with devastating effects or just growing discomfort. But it is coming. And people and communities need to prepare themselves. In the ‘great waiting’ of our unique times, we might still be powerless to co-create the future we wish to have (unable to see it or manifest it fully), but we can protect what we care about — be it people, places, animals and our culture — until the time (our time), will come to act (this might take month or years). And we can do so by creating Arks — Local spaces of ‘in-between’ (worldview, time, place, perspectives) — To come together, envision, create, and emerge a new earth. One that is ours to make.
These Arks will respect the diverse points of view (represented in the story by the animals) but will remind the participants that they are all in this together (In the Ark). And maybe after the storms of delusion, lies, projection and fears are over, we will come out into a world to re-imagine ourselves, our community and our culture.
Nothing in this vision is new. Nothing is abstract. These are all well tested ideas that we have been practicing for thousands of years. But never with such a task at hand and so much complexity. A complexity that will never be met if we will continue to be unwilling to merge as communities, beyond our worldview. We are spirit in action: Let us gather and move beyond ourselves. And never forget — We are the majority. We are the generations that can make this happen.
About the NEI: The New Earth Institute is a non-profit educational organization that offers programs, workshops, and public talks for people in communities seeking awakened and evolving lives that are based on wonder, vitality, fearlessness, and connection ‘for, from, and of the earth’, We are in the business of raising consciousness: A social movement for nuanced, and complex dialogue in politics, society, business and religion. We focus mainly on group work (collective spaces) because we believe it has the most potential for transformation to happen. Find out more about how to build your arks or about the NEI.