Monday, November 20, 2023

A Parochial Faith

A few years back, I wrote a book about my Christian faith and the climate crisis.  Is it still relevant?  Of course it is.  I wish it weren't.  Our world still warms, and we still traipse blithely onward into a hotter, harsher future.

Writing that book meant I was obligated to market it, at the introverted pastor of a small congregation...I was not particularly talented.  Though it's the bread and butter of this influencer era, self-promotion isn't a gift of mine.  Gather a launch team!  Talk about yourself endlessly!  Approach random strangers!  Pitch pitch pitch!  It's a horror to my shyness.

But given that some lovely editors and designers had worked so hard, I gritted my teeth, and put myself out there.  I wrote.  I approached strangers.  I connected with others who are active in the place where the "faith" and "climate" Venn diagram circles meet.

But the more I did, I thought, faith in what?  What is the faith that I encounter here?  Mostly, the strongest voices of the climate crisis faithful are of faithful scientists or faithful climatologists, who speak in their secular capacity.  Theologians qua theologians seem of less interest, with an exception.

In that exception lies a thing that struck me.  So much of the explicit faith-talk in the Earthcare/Climate Justice world is, well, "Earth-centered spirituality."  Drums and circles and burning sage, along with folky-singing about Mother Earth and Gaia and loving our little world.  Hymns to the earth.  Litanies for the earth.

It's all about loving the Earth.

Which I do, of course.  I love this amazing, rare, beautiful planet of ours in the same way that I love the little quarter acre plot on which my little house sits.  My home gives me shelter, keeps me warm in winter and casts shade over my head in summer.  It feeds me, as the harvest of my garden arrives on my table.  This little gem of a watery, Goldilocks-zone world is a miraculous thing.

But I don't have faith in the Earth.  My faith is not Terran.  Earth is not my god(dess).  It can't be.  Not because it's bad.  It's just too small.  It'd be like worshiping a blue green pebble in my hand, or a mote of dust floating in a sunbeam.  Sure, it's my home, but I don't worship my domovoi.  I don't impute existential primacy to oxygen, or water, or complex organic proteins, even though I rely on them for my survival.  Those things are teleologically contingent, I say, feeling more than a little smug about my vocabulary.

There was a time, when humankind was still bounded by the limitations of our eyes, that an Earth-centered faith made sense.  Even then, there was a yearning for something greater.

But now?  Now, when we know that space and time are yawningly, terrifyingly vaster than our world?   If God is, with St. Anselm, That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Conceived, earth-worship is a little fuddling.  

Sagan's Pale Blue Dot sure is purty, but it ain't the center of the cosmos, or the reason for its existence.

If I can observe this, why would I declare this planet to be that which defines all meaning?  The glory of God is told in the heavens, all of the heavens, not simply on the third world elliptically dancing about a cheerily plump middle-aged G class star.

Why should this planet, which is mutable and changing, be the purpose that establishes my deepest self-understanding?  How can this world, that will one day be seared and consumed as our sun grows old, fat, and hungry, be the reason for all things?  There are trillions of other planets.  Among them, Fermi and Drake tell us that there are likely many thousands that are just like Earth in the Milky Way galaxy alone.  

I just can't get to being Earth centered.  Terracentrism is as confining as anthropocentrism.  Faith must be robust enough to embrace all worlds, and all life, and all that can possibly be.

Such a faith still calls us to love the Earth as we would a unique person, or any one of the lovely trees that thrive around our homes.  Earth has value in that it is itself.  It is worth carefully stewarding in that it alone among all of the worlds we know harbors not just life, but sentient life.  Or at least sentient-ish life.  We must be wary of harming it, because in doing so, we will invite our ruin.

It is also, at the same time, a infinitesimal speck in the vastness of being.  

Earth spirituality just feels...parochial.  Gaia is the sort of god one can keep in one's pocket, a Queequeggian fetish, a village deity in a Miyazaki film.   

Lovely, in her way, but not really representative of all of Creation.