Monday, August 11, 2008

Nature is Beautiful (Question Mark)

"Nature is the most powerful thing God made.
In fact, it's the only thing he ever made."
-Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

So, there's something on my mind lately. Namely, humanity and our perception of nature.

Most people would say that nature is beautiful, that feeling connected to the earth and all living creatures is a positive thing. 9 times out of 10, I'd agree with that.

After all, who wouldn't agree that this is beautiful?

Sunsets, butterflies, vast coral reefs, polar bears, rainforests, starfish, the great Northern lights - we're generally okay with these things.

But what about the less-than-savory side of nature?

Tornadoes, parasites, earthquakes, viruses, floods, flesh-eating bacteria- these are all part of nature, too. Not exactly what comes to mind when I hear "God's creation," but there you have it.

It begs the question, ought we embrace the repellent side of nature? As squishy, soft-skinned mammals, we're naturally averse to things like, say, the AIDS virus. Or being burned alive in a volcanic eruption. Or sucked into a black hole.

A few months ago, I read something funny on an Atheist website, in an article about neo-Pagan Earth religions.
"Wiccans, though generally more tolerable than Judeo-Christians, are just as happy to be sucked away by a hurricane, praising the gods and thanking the Goddess for the opportunity."

Seriously though, when we thank God for the gift of Creation, do we really mean all of Creation? Aren't we, as squishy soft-skinned mammals, guilty of picking and choosing?

In the collective thought of the Christian think-tank, there are a few answers/opinions which come to mind.

One is of the ultra-liberal revisionist John S. Spong. That is, that there is no loving theistic Creator God watching out for us, that nature is in fact cruel, and that God is better understood as the impersonal Force which comes from harmonious interpersonal relationships. Jesus was a very nice person. (If he was real.)

If that's true, I'm going to be so pissed. Because it means I've been worshiping a 2,000 year old corpse, and taking moral cues from an outdated work of fiction. Quite frankly, I'd get more out of staying home on Sunday morning and watching Star Wars. It has better special effects than the Bible, and Chewbacca is way cooler than King Solomon.

On the other hand, we've got the colonial imperialist thinking of the 17th - 19th centuries. (Also Ann Coulter.) That is, that humanity is superior to nature and as such, it is our birthright - nay, duty - to rape and pillage the earth for all its worth. To subdue all inferior creatures and races beneath our mighty sword. I don't buy that either.

So, where does that leave us? How do we understand God, through the lens of God's creation? Even the less desirable aspects of that creation? What do you think?


Azalea said...

"On the other hand, we've got the colonial imperialist thinking of the 17th - 19th centuries. (Also Ann Coulter.) "

This had me laughing and thus getting strange looks in the computer lab. Thanks Eric.

Kate Morningstar said...

I was reading the Genesis passage this morning, for August 17th -- Joseph's brothers come to beg help of the Pharaoh, and Joseph sends everyone else away, and tells his brothers who he is, asks after his father, and tells them he has the power to save them from the famine.

He says something like, you sold me into slavery for evil, but God planned this so I could preserve life." We don't have the right not to decide about any of it. We don't know what God intends.

JN1034 said...

Eric: As requested, here's my try at addressing this cosmic dilemma ...

Our common theology teaches us that the ontological nature of creation changed when Adam & Eve abused the hospitality of Paradise, misused their free will. Upon their changes of beingness - from their original nonstop flight aboard theosis to the divergent cruise through salvation history - so, too, the beingness of all creatures and creation altered. Humanity introduced decay and death not only to the human race but also to all the universe.

Nature can be beautiful, I agree with you in full. I think the Northern Lights are visually orgasmic. But, as you and I both cited, parasites and the darker side of nature surfaces. The late MIT professor Stephen Jay Gould wrote about this from a scientific/Darwinian perspective in his article "Nonmoral Nature," cf. By the way, it was Gould who tried to use the scientific method to re-create and test Darwin's theories, finding that Darwin's conclusions were false, and, as Gould states, evolution wasn't of the strongest, but "of the luckiest" (happenstance and sheer randomness drives evolution). Anyway, I diverted there ... sorry.

Anyway, Gould says creation and its creatures are nonmoral in nature. When a lion goes on the attack and eats a gazelle, the lion has no remorse in the slaughter, the gazelle can't plead for mercy, the lion can't show mercy, the gazelle doesn't have the ability to talk its way out. If a guy goes to the gym and uses the sauna, and happens to sit on a fungal microbe left behind by another, the guy's skin can't ask the fungus to go away, the microbe does what a microbe does, and the guy gets a case of jock itch. Nonmoral. Neither good nor bad. Just is. Or, as some may say, instinct happens.

Yet as Christians, we may disagree. When you watch a show on the Animal Planet or Discovery or NatGeo, and we see and hear that gazelle screaming as it's killed by the lion, we know the poor creature is in pain suffering, and would prefer - if its nature could allow - to run off and skamper merrily through the wilderness playing and romping.

Similarly, those pagans you refer to are using Gould's premise that nature is nonmoral, and - though mistaken - they think that all of nature's ways are "good" in the eyes of God. What bullshit. So they dance and hoot to be caught up in a hurricane? Shall the infant born of an HIV mother celebrate having the joy of AIDS? Shall a young woman with breast cancer thank the Moon Goddess for her pending mastectomy? I've a friend who lost both testicles from festering cancer when he was 17, and I don't recall him praising Allah for the opportunity (he's from Iran, and his father was true to the merciless, highly moral culture: "You're not a man any more! You can't have children. No woman will marry you without your manhood!").

What is most difficult to accept is that God is not playing a game with us as board pieces. The natural order (even though imperfect) has its own set of rules. Gravity, mathematics and logic, the speed of light, maggots growing from dead meat, a pimple growing on my back that I can't reach to pop (did I give my body permission to grow that zit there?), and so on, all these are part of a world that is living within God but without God's intervention at every given moment.

Human don't like randomness. We demand cause-effect answers. Now. Why does God allow a gay couple in Massachusetts to marry and know romantic love while another similar couple are tortured and hanged in Saudi Arabia? How come Juno (the movie character) has compassionate, understanding parents when she gets pregnant at 16, and a young girl in Bolivia is sent off to a Catholic convent-homestead for sinful, bad girls so she can repent and birth a child she'll never know?

Our shared Tradition is clear on this: When Christ resurrected, he transformed all creation. In "the life of the world to come," lions needn't eat gazelles, and gazelles needn't fear lions. Children won't be abused. Tsumanis won't destroy families and towns. Republicans won't be able to hate-monger (ooops, a political slip). Young boys in Africa needn't learn how to use AK47s. People in Kansas can build houses from paper-mache and not fear the darkening skies and howling winds.

Modern Christinaity is way too existential. We've lost our ontological foundation. Being precedes doing, not vice versa. We're so darn busy trying to do the Gospel we overlook that the Gospel is something that changes us from within. Then anything we do in in alignment with Christ. In the world to come, I can eat a sandwich I left out on the dashboard for days in August and not be rushed to an ER.

Neither the pagans nor Coulter have it (or anything) right. Mother Earth, Father Sky, and humanity are not the measure of all things. The only measure, the rule by which we live, is the Holy Trinity. This is why Scripture tells us the world moans and travails, for the state of fallenness, of divergence from theosis, hurt us all. Hurt you, me, the parasite. And when we are saved and re-created, so is everything in creation. We are stewards of creation because creation is co-dependent upon us; if we co-create with God and bring the world to deification, then the universe thanks us. If we don't, one can hear every creature and element screaming at us: You humans, stop being such fuck-ups! We can't stop doing what we do, but you can!

I've babbled too too much here, and said even less. Apologies if I've overstepped bounds.

eric said...

Not at all! Thanks so much for your (as always) thoughtful reply.

"The only measure, the rule by which we live, is the Holy Trinity."

Mmmmm. Yes.

Many things to ponder....thank you!