Bellah lectures on industry
Charlie Ducey | Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Bellah has compiled for his forthcoming book, “The Modern Project in the Light of Human Evolution,” which engages the consequences of rapid industrialization, especially environmental degradation and the way the human is viewed as a person. Bellah described the startling impact of industrialization by tracking the growth of human expansion with a social development index. In 2000 BCE, human society earned an unimpressive rank of 4. By 100 CE the Roman Empire reached 43 on the index, a limit or “hard ceiling” which remained unbroken for centuries.
The industrial revolution in century Britain shattered this “hard ceiling,” as the index topped 1000 by the year 2000 and is expected to climb to an immense value of 5000 in the next century, Bellah said. Such increases, though they drive his research, cause challenges for humanity.
In the face of this extreme change, Bellah said, “How do we as a species adapt to a rate of change that no biological species has ever faced before?”
To explain the immediacy of this question, Bellah considered Malthus’ famous prediction that humanity will deplete its resources and encounter a “hard ceiling” beyond which it cannot pass. Although industrialization may have raised the ceiling, whether society will collide softly or violently with this boundary remains to be seen, Bellah said.
The boundaries that humanity faces brought to mind the uniqueness of the modern condition and led him to ponder if the great religious traditions could provide relevant solutions in a rapidly advancing society. In viewing the new understanding of the human person that accompanies modernization, Bellah said religion remains pertinent.
In the second half of his lecture, Bellah examined how the recognition of human dignity has evolved alongside industrialization, as seen in “The Declaration of Independence” and the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration on Human Rights”. Though the idea of the dignified human person permeated multiple societies, from ancient Palestine to imperial Rome, Bellah emphasized these documents “put the demand for human rights on the table.”
Bellah acknowledged “Gaudium et Spes,” produced during the Second Vatican Council, as a critical, Catholic contribution to the global focus on human rights that did not limit the special value of the human person based on creed or ideals.
The unprecedented transformations of modernization coupled with the value of the human person form is what Bellah said he considered two enormous societal tensions in a world that has been made fragile by exponential human growth.