Nuggets From Michael Dowd's Call

Posted by Rahul Brown on Oct 4, 2020
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Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Michael Dowd.

Rev. Michael Dowd is a Christian minister, author, and eco-theologian. He is known as a bridge builder connecting liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious people, science and religion. He shows how a sacred view of Big History, human nature, and death can inspire each of us to live with greater joy, integrity, purpose, and passion. He accepts the "doom" predicament of modern human civilization, and engages in efforts to give voice to this context, along with his perspectives on a “Christian response”, grounded in compassion and goodwill. He supports audiences in transcending belief systems in a way that deepens connection to the core of their faith. This call will focus on his most recent “post-doom” work. What is overshoot, and how does it connect to a Christian minister? How can one become resilient in a way that is aligned with evolution, ecology, and perennial wisdom teachings?

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
  • Michael was raised Roman Catholic. Struggled with drugs and alcohol growing up, but found a lot of support in the Church. Never felt like an ex-Catholic but wasn’t really called to celibacy. He became a student of worldviews, which has became his main area of study. How do we co-create reality with our worldview? Got into learning all sorts of tools for transformation. Was married for 13 years, and was a pastor. Discovered rural = conservative. Feel fortunate that I can be in any religious and secular setting and be fluid and at home. To him GODDE (old English spelling) means nature—he relate to it in an “I – thou” way. Living with nature in mind has been central to him since 1988. He did environmental sustainability work for 5 years to help communities lower their carbon footprint.
  • If you buy into a supernatural only interpretation of the divine, the world turns into a resource and dumping ground. Theism vs atheism is a form of insanity i.e. God is only outside the universe, treating the world as an IT as opposed to a THOU. Many Christians have a worldview that is ecocide.
  • Science and religion have been tag teaming the world to ecocide. Religion downgrades from a control mechanism to a coping mechanism. We are part an unsustainable boom & bust civilization. Once you have a culture that has a dominator mindset, you force others to do the same. There is an 80% probability that our species goes extinct in this century. Civilization as we know it is on its way out. So how do we have compassion in that terminal diagnosis? Whether we all go extinct is irrelevant – our way of life is rapidly passing.
  • Reality is his God. Evidence is his scripture. Ecology is his theology. Integrity is his spirituality. Accountability to the future is his religion. Reading a book on evolution was a turning point where science and evidence shifted him out of a fundamentalist viewpoint. ‘What are we pointing to when we speak of God?’ was an article that moved him. It showed him that God = Reality. That’s when he gave up supernaturalism. He started interpreting reality as evidence or revelation of God.
  • When he says ecology is his theology, he mean it to his bones. The fundamental fact of genuinely sustainable cultures is that it lives in one place without destroying itself. What allows that is carrying capacity i.e. a limit to how much we can take from the living world without things breaking down. Once you exceed carrying capacity, you are stealing from the future. You are on a path that is ecocidal. So many civilizations cut down the trees, wash away all the soil, and then they collapse. Honoring and treating limits as sacred is fundamental to sustainability. The sense of limitless is ecocidal. Sane vs insane progress is an important distinction.
  • He's talking about coming back to genuinely sustainable civilizations that treated nature as God and other creatures as teachers. The human animal in that cosmos can thrive and continue to thrive. If we are anthropocentric, we will die. 5 Nobel scientists who endorsed his books.
  • Since this conversation is happening right now—such a tumultuous times—if you are not aware that you or someone close to you could die, you are out of touch with reality. If you are not in touch with your own mortality, you are out of touch with reality. So many things are at risk and collapsing and abruptly changing. We’re in the early stages of a great conflagration – most of the world's forest will be burning in the next 30 – 40 years. Fall in love with nature. Treat the living world as God. What does it need? This is all holy work.
  • People can only take a worldview if they’re ready. The western world’s religion isn’t Christianity, it's 'progress'. Those of who have awakened to the perilous time we are working in and done the grief work, are in a better position to move forward. That’s why he's in the post-doom work he does. How does one become active however love leads you? We are in the earliest stages of the greatest mental health crisis in human history.
  • He did initially turn away from this for 12 years. He had a deep ecology world view until 2000. Even bought into the perpetual progress myth. He didn’t believe in the withering earth. Then he saw a TEDx talk titled 'Climate change is simple'. That’s when his techno optimism died. Then he's been studying the rise and fall of civilizations. Genuine sustainability vs false sustainability i.e. ecocide.
  • The fundamental core of our ecocide is anthropocentrism. If our goal is maximizing for ourselves then that’s where it stops. Only a 'life-centered' view is a sane measure of progress. There is no need to play the blame game. How do we live in a time of collapse when most people deny it? Those who don’t deny climate change don’t think about it. Adaptive inattention is real, and he actually recommends it. Knowing what’s real, and what’s possible is important. A 12 step prayer was important for him. Collapse 101, and Post Gloom.
  • The only healthy form of not knowing is humility. Human self-restraint is our only hope. Any form of not knowing that encourages us to downgrade our consumption is helpful. The question is 'who do we choose to be in the face of collapse so that we’re experienced as engaged in loving action?' He's only confident in what we have overwhelming evidence for. We’re not going to wake up next week with some understanding that overturns all that science knows.
  • He calls meditation paying attention at the speed of life. He has spent 4 decades developing habits that are good. He has a 4 month old granddaughter. Does he want us to be in collapse? No, he is grieving for us and other species. HIs heart breaks for the reality that actually is. Not a single civilization has shifted from unsustainable to sustainable behavior on the way down. This will be the best year of your life. Next year is likely to be worse. These problems are now in runaway mode. Clarity is important – you may not like it, but the confusion is gone. That brings caring. What comes out after is compassion. Then it's love in action. Don’t put off having completion conversations -- meaning, have meaningful conversations. Expressions of gratitude and regret are important. Heart tenderizing conversations are important. Everyone who is privileged in some form can have it overtaken very quickly.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

Nuggets/Excerpts from Transcript:
  • The living world is no longer related to us as a divine Thou once you buy into a supernatural-only interpretation of the divine.
  • The theism-versus-atheism debate is a form of collective insanity, because both sides presuppose a trivial, impotent, inconsequential understanding of the divine, a God that is only outside the universe. Both sides tend to treat the living world as an IT, not a THOU. And that is unsustainable.
  • We're now reaping the consequences of probably an inevitable process of 7,000 years or so of city-based civilizations, agriculture-based civilizations, that consistently overshot the carrying capacity of their land base and then crashed.
  • Once you've got a culture that has a dominator mindset and mines metals and can create weapons, you force the other cultures to either be subsumed or to also take that dominator mindset. So it's probably inevitable that the last 6,000 or 7,000 years brought us to the world we're seeing now.
  • Civilization as we know it is on its way out. And so the question then becomes, How do we have compassion and generosity and care and kindness and consideration when we have, quite likely, a terminal diagnosis?
  • My creed, in a nutshell, in six statements, is this: Reality is my god. Evidence is my scripture. The epic of evolution is my creation story. Ecology is my theology. Integrity is my spiritual path. Fostering accountability to the future is my mission.
  • The religion of the Western world isn't Christianity – it’s progress. The secular, the civil religion of progress has been the fundamental religious faith for several hundred years. And that's dying around people now and people are traumatized by that. Understandably.
  • I like “love in action” better than “activism” -- whatever love guides you to do in terms of your love in action is soul nourishing. And we're going to be needed, because we are in the early stages of the greatest mental health crisis in human history. No question.
  • The fundamental root of our unsustainable path has been human centeredness, anthropocentrism.
  • Only life-centered measures of well-being, where we measure progress, where we measure well-being, where we measure wealth in terms of how well is the soil doing decade by decade, how well is the forest doing decade by decade? What are the other species like decade by decade? That's the only sane measure of well-being and progress.
  • We know from previous collapsing civilizations, most people never wake up and get it. They go to their grave believing either that things are going to continue or they aren't that bad. Denial is very deeply rooted.
  • Any form of uncertainty or not knowing that encourages us to downshift, to downscale, to use less energy, to drive less, to fly less, to eat less meat, basically all the different aspects, that's going to be a good thing.
  • So it's not, Will civilization collapse? We're already decades into it. The question then becomes, Who do we be?
  • I experience meditation as paying attention at the speed of life. That's my definition of meditation: paying attention at the speed of life.
  • Of over 100 civilizations that we know of, in the last 7,000 years, not one yet has shifted from unsustainable to sustainable on the way down. It just doesn't tend to happen
  • Clarity tends to bring a certain calm, a certain caring, and then what flows pretty much naturally out of that is compassion. So we have more compassion for other people, other species, for the world and for the future.
  • The only way of living sustainably that's ever been, and that will ever be, is where we provide everything that we need as humans in ways that preserve the integrity of the ecosphere. There's no way to do it other than that.
  • We’ve so overshot the carrying capacity of the living world that we're now in the age of consequences, and no amount of fasting or prayer or meditation or hoping or wishing will wish away that we are in the early stages of the great reckoning.
  • Even if our species goes extinct in the near term, even if our population trims down 99 percent in the next 40 years, there still can be a homecoming -- humanity coming home to reality as divine and living in a mutually enhancing relationship with everything we depend upon.
  • It doesn't matter if everybody woke up tomorrow morning utterly convinced of the reality of climate change and utterly committed to doing everything we possibly can to reduce our carbon footprint. It still most likely wouldn't be enough. We are in runaway mode.

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