Saturday, March 21, 2009

Beware the Alpaca Lips. Repent.

(approximately 1675 words)

Are these the last days? When I hear this, it can mean someone is expecting Jesus to come out of the clouds at any minute. The rapture and Armageddon and all that. Or it can come from the hard core environmentalist crowd warning of an ecological calamity so catastrophic that no one will survive. Or, it can come from people fixated on our seemingly eminent use of nuclear and biological weapons to destroy the world.

Some will say it’s prophesy. The bible says it is coming and all the signs are lining up. Or others can refer to people like Edward Abbey yelling from the rim of Glen Canyon Dam that we are killing the earth with our consumption, or they can point to Eisenhouer’s warning of the evils of a vast military industrial complex. And there’s always the old stand by Nostradamus.
Evangelicals,. Environmentalists, and peace activists, can all be found warning us in dire tones that the end is at hand. That we, of all the generations of people that have inhabited the earth for billions of years (or approximately six thousand if you are a creationists), will see the end of days. Never mind that for at least two thousand years people have thought the end was at hand. I am pretty sure Jesus’s disciples thought the end was coming in their time. In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds a host of religious groups sprang up around this conviction. My favorite were the Millerites (today’s Seventh day Adventist) Who had calculated the exact date. The event was a big media circus. Believers gathered together, having prepared themselves, and consecrated all their property to the church, Imagine the embarrassment when the day passed. After a second calculation and a second try, the group wisely settled for the broader calculation method of “sometime soon.” For the non-religious, history has provided ample opportunities to think the end of the world was coming. Hitler’s escapades, the black plague, the dropping of the bomb on Japan.

At some point, I realize, the argument that someone has always thought we were in the last days, will have to give way to the reality of actually being at the end. Religionists and scientists agree the earth won’t go on forever. The fever pitch of warning seems to be rising on both sides. A harmonic convergence of shouted warning. Today All Gore and Pat Robeson are equally frightening. Who you listen to just depends on how you like your gloom and doom served up. What if they are right? What, exactly, am I suppose to do about it? The other day I heard a comedian on TV joking about the terrorist warning system and how no one knows what we are suppose to do differently when the alert level goes from yellow to orange. To prepare for the last days we are, I gather, suppose to get religion, or get ecology, or get peace. I don’t think, if we see the end as rapidly approaching, that little changes will do. We need big sweeping changes. the old dilemmas that have perplexed us (Catholic or Protestant. Paper or plastic) don’t seem as critical in the light of global catastrophy.

The main difference I see between the religionist end of day crowd, and the eco/political end of the world crowd can be summed up like this. The eco/political crowd sees our situation as dire but alterable. We can change our ways and clean up our act and prolong the time we have remaining. We have it in our power to reverse the damage and put life back on a sustainability tract. But we have to make sweeping and radical changes in lifestyle, attitude, and social structures. The Religionist, on the other hand, think the end is ordained by God, it is coming because this is Gods plan and there is nothing we can do to alter the time frame. The whole story was written from beginning to end, and we have simply to realize it’s truth and accept our fate. Our choices is to embrace God and his plan of salvation for us, or do the old eternity in a lake of fire thing.

The difference in these two notions is considerable. It creates two very different action plans. Get right with God, and get busy converting people, or get busy cleaning up your carbon footprint. We need a green revolution or another great awakening. If you think only the blood of Christ can save us, changing out incandescent light bulbs and adding a few pounds of air pressure to you tires, let alone making major investments of time and money in new green technologies, doesn’t make much sense. If you are an environmentalist, the idea of arguing about whether the Muslims or Christians or Jews have their theology correct seems equally baffling.

Lets face it, both sides of this divide can get pretty intimidating. If you think environmentalist types are laid back and easy going by nature, try sneaking into a bluegrass festival in Telluride Colorado. Those Birkenstock wearing, granola eating neo hippies are fears. And we all know how in your face frightening some of the more intense groups for God can be. The prospect of either side somehow achieving maximum power and authority over our government or culture should make us all very nervous. There are those of us who are both environmentally minded and Christian, or lets say faith based. There are non-creationist/non-literalist Christians. I know this fact gets obscured in all the media coverage of the religion/secular conflict. But it’s quite common. Of course being a non-creationist Christian, for some fundamentalists, equates to heresy. In the same way that being a faith based science advocate does not compute for the purely empirically minded. But it’s a fact of life. It happens. For many of us, the sacredness of the human soul and the sacredness of the planet, with it’s empirical manifestations, are equally relevant. We can see evolution and atomic physics as an unfolding mystery about how thing are made, and we can see lots of lessons in the scriptures that encourage a wise stewardship over the earth. It concerns me that if enough momentum builds behind a fundamentalist religionist notion of the end of days, that an obstructionist effect against environmentalist efforts could create a self fulfilling prophesy. I.e. “we believe the destruction of the earth is at hand, and that it is Gods will, so being good Christians, we welcome it.”

Here’s what makes sense to me: Lets say I left my house in the care of a group of friends and went away on vacation. When I came home I found my house was on fire. Some of my friends were frantically trying to put the fire out, and some of them were concerned only with when I would get back and set them up with new accommodations. Which of these are my friends? What about people from the neighborhood who are trying to help put out the fire? Are these people not new friends by their effort? Even if there was nothing that could be done, but I saw that some of them were distraught by what had happened, wouldn’t this reflect a concern for what I had built?

This is just me, but I wonder why it isn’t the religionists of the world leading the environmental movement. The notion that many of them are openly hostile toward it strikes me as absurd. I can understand that they may not like the environmental crowd. And I suppose there is a lot of bad blood and suspicion about motives. But so what. Just because someone is adversarial doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything. If I had a neighbor who I couldn’t stand and he hollered at me as I was pulling out of the driveway that I had a flat tire, would I pretend it wasn’t flat just because he pointed it out? Maybe the hardest thing for both sides to recognize is how much they really have in common. To love God with all your mite, or to love the earth, and the ecosystems, and nature with all your mite, may not be that different. What if they are not different at all, except in the way we look at it? What if, in the last day, both sides get to say “told you so”?
I am, by my own estimation, woefully inadequate as a religionist and as an environmentalist. (and as an anti-nuclear bomb advocate for that matter) I am not doing nearly enough on either front, so I don’t have a platform of righteousness to stand on and say anything. But I do see both sides of this issue. I know that if a sunset is viewed by a religionist and an empirical based environmentalist, both see it as a beautiful thing. And whether you see it as a blessing from God, or a marvel of chance chaotic variables all coming together in a particularly pleasing light show, you both are touched. If the end is near, maybe this is a good time to start trying to find the “touched ness” we all have in common and let go of the detractors. Maybe our mutual passions could be expressed in a way that is sensitive and respectful to the other’s perspective. My action plan sounds sappy. But that’s ok. I would love to see a radical green revolution that throws us in reverse as polluters and accelerates us into a new era of sustainable living. I’d also love to see a new great awakening of spiritual growth. One that begins to manifest the best of the human spirit and rejects the old tired dogmatic religionist paralysis. I actually think such movements could work beautifully in concert with each other. Maybe to manifest the end of days as we now know them, and a beginning of days as we are made to see, or created to know. But that’s just me.


John Hayes said...

There's a lot of common sense in this-- tho we all know the old chestnut about how "sense is not common." I have a similar view-- if dire consequences are ahead either for me personally or in a broader sense, why wouldn't I want to live life in the most open & positive way I could. Like your analogy about the burning house & the flat tire, but about the latter-- there are folks, I think, who wouldn't listen to that neighbor no matter what he said, simpyl because they don't like him.

Linda Pendleton said...

Very well written, Randy. I believe many of the differences and conflicts are created by fear. And in recent times, Y2K, 9-11, the war, seemed to be "used" by politicians, religionists, and has resulted in negativity such as distrust, radical thought, and a buildup of more fear in some. Yet, I am optimistic as I do see a swinging of the pendulum to renewed spiritual understandings, and that is where our hope is to having a better community, a better country, a better world.