Let me be clear from the outset: I like Earth Day. The flags, the picnics, the good intentions. It makes me smile to be lectured about recycling by children with earnest faces. I like it when Peter Jennings and the other talking heads show us scenes from Earth Day festivities taking place around the nation. Earth Day — what a great idea!
But somehow, Earth Day always seems to fall prey to “holiday syndrome” — it comes and goes, and we don’t have to think about it again for another year. What a relief! Sure, we may make a halfhearted attempt to compost or take a shorter shower or walk someplace we would normally drive. And when we see news blurbs about oil spills or burning rain forests, we feel momentary outrage. But it’s soon smothered as the detritus of our lives rolls relentlessly over us.
Most of us don’t feel connected to our planet in any meaningful way. Bound by the language of Genesis, we know we left the garden a long time ago. We are exiles, homeless, our access to the land that is our birthright blocked by angels wielding swords of flame.
Before we were tossed out, though, the garden and everything in it was ours to do with as we chose: free fruit and veggies, happy animal friends, and prime real estate. Too bad about that snake thing. Too bad we couldn’t manage to obey a set of fairly simple rules.
Besides our strategically placed fig leaves, we left the garden with one other thing — the certainty that we were special in the eyes of the Creator and that, even though the garden was no longer our home, we were still the boss in the great world that lay beyond the angels. We were given dominion, by God, and we meant to dominate.
And since we are more special than — and therefore superior to — elk and newts and sponges (not to mention minerals, petroleum and trees), it was up to us to tame and control nature, to cut civilization from the heart of the wilderness. So we forsook the religious observances that had tied the course of our lives to the agricultural year, substituting spiritual systems that further alienated us from the natural (dirty, sin-filled, dangerous) world. We set our eyes on a heavenly kingdom and simply endured the horrors of living life on a planet that supplied our every want and need. As civilization progressed, we moved farther and farther from the gods of our tribal ancestors — and from our connection to the natural world. Sacred groves were chopped down, and white spires pointed our way out of this cesspool of sin and toward our real home and our heavenly Father.
But now, as environmental degradation reaches a point where it can no longer be dismissed or denied, the more liberal and even moderate Christians are starting to embrace the notion of “stewardship of God’s creation.” Christian authors are concerning themselves not only with justice and civil-rights issues but also with the ecological disarray confronting the citizens of planet Earth in the 21st century.
Though I am relieved that the majority Christian culture in my country is turning its attention to the welfare of the planet, I hate the word “stewardship,” and I’ll tell you why. It’s the same old dominion concept reheated as new hash. Humankind is still separate from and superior to the rest of the ecosystem, and we’re assigned — this time by their god — to “save the planet.” Enlightened self-interest, to be sure, but self-interest nonetheless. So they go from despots to saviors, but the relationship remains the same: one of superiority to an ecosystem so complex and densely layered that it’s hard for the human mind — that extraordinary machine! — to comprehend it.
The arrogance of this position stuns me. People worry about destroying the planet when it more rightly is a case of making the ecosystem nonviable for our own (and scores of other) species. We make the Earth unlivable for us, and what happens? We die out, the planet adjusts, and new species emerge triumphant: The insects are none too patiently biding their time. We know the planet has a number of ways to self-clean — wind, flood, fire, disease. And she uses them adeptly, from forest fires in the American West to floods in Europe. For all our power and arrogance, there is still one thing modern man can’t control: nature. We can flatten mountains and dam rivers, drain swamps and inoculate babies. But we, the stewards, the chosen, are limited. Our power pales in comparison to a hurricane or a volcano or a supernova. We have envisioned a world that can be controlled by human intellect and achievement, but this vision is flawed.
And where are the Pagans in all this? Many of us believe that the planet is holy ground: not just churches, synagogues, mosques and Mount Sinai, but the whole shebang. The planet, as the Greek deity Gaia, is the living body of a living Goddess. One would think it only natural that the rapidly growing global Pagan community would take leadership at this crucial time, that we would step forward to talk about our genuine and loving relationship to the land and the web of life. In a spirit of fellowship and community, we might assist neighbors of other spiritual traditions to return to right relationship with the natural and sacred world. Where are the councils of elders, where’s the interfaith dialogue on this issue? Where are the Pagans?
We are both an old and a new religion, and that gives us a rare opportunity and an engaging energy. We are well-educated — sometimes overly so.
We have a chance here to do a good thing for the ecosystem we call home. As a loosely bundled, enthusiastic community who honor our goddesses and gods, our Ancestors and our connection to Deity through planet and star, we can face the angels at the gates of the garden and tell them to buzz off. We can demand the right to tear down the walls and make all the world our garden. Then we can get out of our computer chairs, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
So get out there and celebrate Earth Day — every day! Give your Baptist neighbor a helpful hint about growing herbs. Volunteer at a stream cleanup (wet and cold but very invigorating). Be the leader that you are in your circle, kindred, coven, grove, tribe or shire and take the message out into the dominant culture: It’s OK to love the planet. Heck, you can even call her Mom.