(with a nod of thanks to the late Frank Herbert)
would be a corps of committed people working to improve
literacy, democracy and environmental awareness.
Much of their work would be
in the countries with the most biodiversity. However, some work must also
be done in home countries here in the "North" -- in the current
centers of economic and cultural power.
The problem with countries
of the "North" is that our cultures, dominant though they may
currently be, are fundamentally broken. The ideas that we spread around
the globe (the dominant memes of our culture) are toxic when applied to
6+ BILLION people within one fragile biosphere.
What concerns me is that we
have exposed most of humanity to images of our least sustainable lifestyles,
and promoted this as the "good life." From my experiences in
Africa and Southeast Asia, it is clear that these images from movies,
television shows and advertisements are very attractive to people everywhere.
They want to live lives like the ones we are showing them. And given the
current demographics of our species, our numbers will exceed 8 billion
within a few decades. It is hard to justify denying everyone else the
lifestyle we have, and it is unlikely the majority of humankind would
accept such disparity over the long run.
homeworld is already suffering from the carelessness that is fostered
by our broken cultures. We must work quickly to mend these broken lifeways,
to provide sanity to a world out of balance. We must build a new culture.
In the "North" or "West" we label the institutions
that build cultures as "religions" and the people who work to
spread their ideas "missionaries."
What we need now are people
to proselytize for a new cultural foundation, one that promotes healthier
relationships between people and other organisms. We need a culture in
which diverse human communities are vital components of living ecosystems,
in which human communities are integrated wholes within biological communities.
The Missionaria Protectiva would do this work. They would integrate
the best of currently established cultures, and help them grow healthier.
They would work to halt the cancer-like expansion of human population
currently threatening the integrity of the biosphere. They would promote
the adoption of the healthiest practices for humans living in harmony
with other species in each habitat. And they would do this not with government
regulation or the use of force, but by inspiring others with ideas and
A new "religion"?
We have countless historical
examples of fairly radical changes in culture, some driven by internal
re-visioning of how people should live, some brought by contact with outsiders.
Indonesia, originally home to a multitude of indigenous cultures and religions,
became predominantly Buddhist, Hindu, and currently Muslim through interaction
with outsiders. South America is now mostly Roman Catholic, but had possessed
a diversity of native religions before the arrival of European missionaries.
While many of us decry the loss of cultural diversity that resulted from
these changes, there is no denying the tremendous power and influence
of religious teachings in changing the way people live. Could this approach
be studied and harnessed in the service of saving the biosphere on which
we all depend? Can we use persuasion instead of regulation or violence?
Can we stem the rising tide of consumerism threatening to drown the planet?
I believe that we can. We
must act quickly, with enormous dedication and passion. I believe it is
possible to change the way people everywhere view their relationship with
one another and with the rest of the living earth. Religious conversions
in the past have been most successful when the missionaries could offer
people a better life, through more advanced technology and medicine, and
through the promise of education and literacy. If we act wisely we can
still do this in many parts of the world, and even do it in such a way
that we cause less harm to local ecologies, and we maintain maximum cultural
The good life, with better
health care and access to education and technology, is like the color
and scent of a flower to a bee. It will lure people in, but they won't
keep coming back unless they get something more sustaining from it. We
can't really change their worldveiw unless we have something deeper to
offer, something better than what they've got currently.
I don't think it's necessary
to completely replace the religions in which people currently invest their
faith. In fact, if one of the goals is to maintain cultural diversity,
I will probably submit this scheme to something like
the Global Ideas Bank
soon. But if you're interested in this project, e-mail me:
last updated 21-Oct-2003
first posted 15 May 2002
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Created, written and maintained by
Michelle Y. Merrill / Spinneret