Jane Goodall is arguably the world’s leading authority on chimpanzees. She has been studying them for almost sixty years as of this writing. Through the Jane Goodall Institute she continues her work of seeking to protect chimpanzees and their habitat, advocating globally for humane treatment of all animals, and mobilizing resources for conservation of the natural world.
Reason for Hope, written in the late 1990s, is a memoir. As the subtitle indicates, it traces Goodall’s exploration of her own spirituality and her relationship with spiritual forces or entities. It does so by relating events in her life and career to spiritual principles or concepts. She ends many chapters, early chapters in particular, with a reflection on a spiritual concept that arises in the narrative of that chapter. She uses the word “God” to describe a universal spiritual force or entity, but her theology draws from many spiritual traditions, and is not limited to a monotheistic or trinitarian understanding of God.
Jane Goodall was raised in the Anglican tradition, which gives her some of the language she uses to describe her spiritual experiences. She experiences awe, for example, in natural settings both in her homeland of England and in her adopted homes in East Africa. That awe leads her to conclude that a force either outside of or permeating the natural world is responsible for the wonders and beauties one sees in that world.
Early in the narrative, on pages 50–51, Goodall argues that science and faith are not incompatible. Through her relationship with Louis Leakey she was schooled in the principles of human evolution. Honoring her Anglican upbringing, she concludes that God set humans apart at a certain point in evolution by sending the Holy Ghost on them.
In spite of this special relationship with God, humans are prone to great evil. Having lived in England through Second World War, Goodall has seen that evil at close range. She also describes a visit to Auschwitz and visits to laboratories where primates and other creatures lived in unbelievably cruel conditions. She cites further stories she has read or heard that demonstrate human beings’ cruelty to fellow humans. Finally, she cites example after example of humanity’s despoiling of the natural world.
Despite humans’ seeming inability to act responsibly toward one another or toward the natural world, Jane Goodall sees human intelligence and ingenuity as reasons for hope. She sees the natural world as being highly resilient. As do many who hold out hope for humanity and the environment, she also sees the passions, energy, and idealism of young people as providing the greatest source of hope. It has been over twenty years since the writing of Reason for Hope. Is Jane Goodall still optimistic about humanity’s chances for reversing some of the evils we have inflicted on the natural world? The publication of Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants in 2013 would seem to suggest that she is still optimistic. I hope that’s true.
Thanks as always for stopping by.