A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos For Revolutionaries by Terry Patten
A book review by Doug Sellman
It’s always helpful and interesting to know a little bit about authors, particularly authors of major works such as this one, A New Republic of the Heart (NRH). Terry Patten was born in 1951 in Chicago, was brought up in the Brethren church, but became a follower of the Western guru Franklin Jones (aka Adi Da) at age 22. At age 53 he joined Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute. Integral theory is Ken Wilber's attempt to amalgamate the range of theories and thinkers into one single framework, and has been referred to as a "theory of everything", including matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit. This is probably the fundamental underpinnings of NRH, Patten’s quest to have an all-encompassing theory that unifies the globe and saves us from our self-destructive ways as a species.
Patten exhorts us to live with apparent paradoxes and seeming inconsistencies in these conflicts and in so doing develop higher levels of awareness and wisdom as we face what he considers to be potentially apocalyptic conditions on Earth that have been of our own doing. He doesn’t shy away from the real potential for catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse. But he also sees a silver lining; the potential for a major shift in our collective awareness about our relationship with each other and the Earth.
He addresses the old debate about whether human technology will save the day or not and refers to the two sides of this debate as Cornucopian (optimistic) and Malthusian (pessimistic) perspectives. I guess we all have both in some measure; we yearn that things will work out and we strive to be hopeful and optimistic, while we also hold a lot of fear inside that our number is coming up – that we are facing a major comeuppance for our collective addiction to growth.
He likens the critical state of the world to a family sitting down with an addicted family member for an abstinence intervention, and suggests the scientific evidence for the planet’s ecological crisis is commanding our whole species to put a halt to our destructive addiction that is our collective lifestyles. Rehab is required to restore wholeness.
We have sinned; in the sense of the ancient meaning of the word “to miss the mark” by losing touch with wholeness and even denying it, especially in terms of our western growth-orientated lifestyles, ie our continuing insistence, as demonstrated by our profligate lifestyles, that we are separate rather than dependent and part of the Earth’s ecosystems.
Part of Patten’s hope for a major shift in human consciousness and awakening lies in the way that humans have previously made enormous shifts in awareness. He gives as an example the fact that Isaac Newton, who was considered one of the greatest scientists of his time in the early eighteenth century, publicly supported the religious calculation that God created the world on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE. And in less than 150 additional years of scientific observation, an enormous shift of awareness and understanding has occurred so that we know the planet has been here for many more thousands of years than thought just 150 years ago, but for many many millions of years. And the orderly nature of the Universe according to Newtonian physics has been replaced by a deeply mysterious Universe based on Einsteinian physics.
One of the most important learnings for me in the book was around worldviews. He describes three main contemporary worldviews as premodern, modern and postmodern and describes them as follows:
“The premodern worldview is authoritarian, religious, and traditional. The modern is achievement-oriented, egalitarian, and rational. Postmodern worldviews emphasize compassionate sensitivity to self and others, challenging objectivity and expressing liberal, pluralistic ideals. These worldviews exist in a historical relationship: premodern, traditionalist cultures began about five thousand years ago, modern about five hundred years ago, and the postmodern only 150 years ago—emerging more fully in the liberation movements of the 1960s. The tensions between these worldviews are the all-too-familiar stuff of our current “culture wars.”
The book has helped me appreciate more clearly how when I jumped off from a premodern fundamentalist Christian worldview in my youth I jumped to one that was a loose and at times confusing combination of both modern and post-modern ideas and practices. I see better now how the tension between the two domains has been a feature of my thinking struggles for the past 40 years. With the stimulus of this book, I feel motivated to attempt to better integrate these two ways of seeing the world and determining truth; but also, to regather some of the treasure of my formative traditionalist worldview – its values and guidance on the best way to live.
The book probably needed a good edit. However, I enjoyed the repetition, and the immense breadth of content that Patten brings to bear on understanding our current human predicament; but even more importantly, how to use the planetary crisis we’re in to lift ourselves to a new plane of sister- and brother-hood and reconnection with the Earth and all other living things. Now that would be a revolution!