Thursday, July 23, 2009

How should we live

The following is a post I made for my environmental religion class. It's a little rough around the edges, but I didn't want to lose it so here it is:

I have a Catholic background and from there became a Unitarian Universalist. I have no experience with the end times. I don't like to judge other's religious expression but I am not impressed by that branch of theology. There is something spooky about it to me. There is this emphasis on the powerlessness of the individual and the irrationality and powerfulness of the savior. Your role as an individual is to be in with the powerful one. Saving means believing, and the ethical side of religion is undeveloped. The end-times theology is something both Berrys (Wendell and Thomas) have regretted because it takes the focus off of the sacred material world and puts it onto heaven.

However, oddly, I've always been attracted to end of the world stories in literature. I have a taste for science fiction and one of my guilty pleasures are stories about comets hitting the earth, and I will watch some pretty bad disaster movies! (If anyone has times for a beautiful end of the world novel, Kevin Brockmeier, "The Brief History of the Dead" is NOT a guilty pleasure but a treasure of a novel.) When I was a child I used to fantasize about being in a world without people, just walking around the beautiful Earth playing with the animals. I have no idea what that means about me. I think it might just mean that I was a middle child in a big family! I told my older brother about this old fantasy of mine and he just laughed and laughed.

Its hard to take in how vulnerable we are, we protect against it. We have a filter that tells us the past dictates the future. But anyone who has had an important person in their life die unexpectedly knows that is just a filter, things change sometimes in the wink of an eye. So will it be a comet that gets us or our terrible stewardship of the Earth? They have very different theological meanings. The comet would be entirely natural, and would mean that all our struggles were pretty pointless unless some remnant survived and then came back again (science fiction language :) ). I have a big picture theology and even I can't get much meaning out of human flowering on Earth only to be taken out by a natural cosmological event.

Having Global warming go too far has another meaning entirely. Wendell Berry says being "fallen creaters in a fallen world can only instruct us painfully in division and disintegration" . I have always regarded my Apocalyptic interests as some private expression of my psyche. The fact of it is almost entertaining in a generally positive and forward thinking person like myself. This whole global warming crisis has pushed me toward darker thoughts than usual. Some think that religion is our human response to the idea of death, that we have these interesting complex identities, that feel so real and important packed into a biological package that dies. But one of the comforts has always been that the world continues on without us. Many people believe either in an after life or reincarnation. So far my response to these dark thoughts have been to realize that I can only do what humans do. I can change my behavior a little, I can preach about this, I can maintain my hope. I don't even want to be an activist about it -- although I end up doing so out of interest and enthusiasm, I really don't think that for me activism is a response to the Apocalyptic challenge but comes more from the gut, not my heart. I think Berry is on the right track, the response to something so large is to grow a garden, to be more human, to make more connections, to be more open to friends and family.

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