Mark HATHAWAY and Leonardo BOFF, The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation. . Foreword by Fritjof CAPRA. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2009. pp. xiii + 403. $26 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-841-6.
Reviewed by Mary-Paula CANCIENNE, RSM, Georgian Court University, 900 Lakewood Ave., Lakewood, NJ 08701

In The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation, Mark Hathaway (adult educator and environmental activist) and Leonardo Boff (theologian and prolific writer on liberation theology, ecology, and spirituality) combine their breadth of experience, commitment, and passion in an effort to stretch readers beyond their assumptions concerning the ecological crisis that we face. H. and B. take a broad approach, gathering historical, economic, scientific, psychological, and spiritual material across multiple cultures, traditions, and disciplines that compels you to think deeply, perhaps even differently, about where we are, how we got here, and the direction our choices must take for there to be an equitable, healthy, and beautiful world for all of life on Earth in the future.

The text includes twelve chapters, divided into three main parts: exploring the obstacles; cosmology and liberation; and the Tao of liberation. The authors approach their project employing the basic wisdom of the Tao Te Ching in order to highlight the oneness of matter, energy, and spirit, the need for humans to follow the wisdom of creation, and our need to seek a kind of harmony with the nature of life. A major strength of this work is that throughout the text the authors engage the insights of multiple spiritual traditions and disciplines, including contemporary science.

For example, H. and B. support the distinctions between subject and object found in panentheism, but demonstrate how the lack of distinctions in pantheism is problematic for several reasons, specifically ecologically because pantheism portrays all matter and experience as being god and of equal value, thereby not recognizing differentiation or having a means to ethically judge different actions. On another note, they highlight the wonders of the universe more recently discovered and provide additional speculations about what cannot be seen or proven, what they refer to as the implicate order, and how all, even no-thing, is in communion with every other in the cosmos. Here, their retrieval of understandings of the Christian Trinitarian God enters into dialogue with contemporary science.

The authors are convinced that liberation from oppressive personal and collective understandings, beliefs, and habits is essential. They examine systems based in domination, exploitation, and unlimited growth, such as capitalism, and, instead, they advocate for systems and practices that find value in developing quality. Here, an eco-feminist’s critique is useful, as well as the Catholic ethical value of “subsidiarity.”

H. and B. are convinced that if we do not reclaim and rethink the place and role of human beings in creation, that is, one specie among many but with the gift and responsibility of a particular kind of consciousness, we will not avert a very gloomy scenario where, for sure, those who are most marginalized (all kinds) will suffer greatly. However, they are hopeful, but with a hopefulness committed to collaborative imagination, deep spiritual practice, acceptance of limitations, a determination to care, wisely discerned efforts, and an understanding of the beautiful, complex, reciprocal nature of the cosmos. Among their suggestions, they encourage a firm embrace of the Earth Charter.

Even if you do not agree or accept the authors’ analysis, ideas, or suggestions, you are the better for having engaged this writing. The text, itself, is a liberating experience, well deserving of the 2010 Nautilus Gold Medal for Cosmology and New Science. While The Tao of Liberation is certainly not for beginners, it would be a healthy challenge for undergraduates if with assistance, and certainly for graduate students studying ecology, social sciences, economics, theology, spirituality, or ethics.

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