Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Does "God" "care" about the climate crisis?

"The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?" (Amos: 8:7-8)

What would it be like to have a cultural memory of the massive power -- the power to give life, and to threaten -- inherent in Nature?

Would you be happy to have those memories in the past? To be living in a time and place where you could feel like the unchallenged lord of your domain? Or would you have a sense of uneasiness? As if you knew there was something being left unacknowledged? A gnawing feeling that "something's coming" . . . ?

(Oh - and "my deeds"? What have "my deeds" got to do with it?)

* * *

Does "God" -- whatever it is we mean by "God" -- "care" -- whatever it might mean for "God" to "care" -- about the climate crisis?

Does "God" "care" that the ultimate outcome of the damage to the Earth's climate may lead to the end -- not of the Earth itself, nor of life on Earth, but of the existence of the human species on Earth?

* * *

When I was twelve years old, my family spent some weeks in Pennsylvania taking care of my grandfather as he was nearing the end of his life. A friend of the family, Larry, joined us to help out: driving us to the hospital and generally providing moral support.

Larry was a philosophy professor. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met.

The ride to and and from the hospital was through the beautiful coal-filled mountains of Carbon County in Eastern Pennsylvania. Often, on the rides, we had "philosophical" discussions.

Sometimes on those rides, Larry would try to gently broach the subject of what was happening with my grandfather, and how I was dealing with it. Was I thinking about what might be coming?

Larry had a tremendously gentle manner combine with a fabulous smile.

I specifically remember one of those discussions. Larry posed the problem of whether, if God knows the future, does that mean the future is predetermined. I imagine he was disappointed to discover that this was a question that had never occurred to me, and was not troubling me. In any event, he invited me to consider a God for whom past, present, and future existed in a way similar to the way in which the present exists for us. "So: just as you, sitting there seeing me sitting here, doesn't make me sit here, God's knowledge of all time doesn't make it happen the way it happens."

"Oh," I said.

* * *

In Larry fashion, I wonder: what might the beginning and end of the human species mean for God/Nature/the Universe? I try to analogize my experience to the "experience" of God/Nature/the Universe. In the overall scheme of things . . . ?

For some reason, all I can think of is dodgeball.

Sometime before I got into middle school, there was an "after-school sports" program that we all participated in. Some days the kids from my school, Fairmount, would go play at Washington Avenue School. Some days we would go play at Milton Avenue School. I suppose we had a variety of activities, but what I clearly remember is dodgeball.

Sometimes the kids from our school would win, and sometimes the kids from the other school would win.

There were moments when the cascade of balls was thrilling.

I often had to carry my trumpet case, and that was a pain.

The gym at Milton smelled pukey, actually.

As I think about it, little by little more and more comes back to me . . . specific kids . . . like that big tall kid from Washington who later turned out to be one of my best friends, Ed.

* * *

The ending of humanity due to the destruction of Earth's atmosphere will be bad when it's happening.

* * *

I believe there is value in trying to grasp the meaning of "God" "caring" about the climate crisis. I don't think it's true that there is a big "somebody" out there who is going to come to humanity's rescue. I do believe there is a power in the universe, and we are deeply enmeshed with that power, and that enmeshment becomes more and more manifest as we enter more and more deeply into the crisis.

God / Nature / the universe / the power is full of infinite potentiality. Humanity just has it's eyes closed at the moment.

If Larry were here, I think Larry would say, "Perhaps the meaning of God caring about the climate crisis is that humanity gets to see the future, together with God -- just like you get to see the road out the front window as we drive along this mountain road -- so that humanity can choose its own future."

And Larry would not be pleased, exactly, to find that this question has been troubling me . . . no, that's not true. Larry would be pleased, Larry would be relieved; Larry would smile that smile of his.

Related posts

One of the really interesting things about looking at how Rachel Carson used her writing to wake the world up -- particularly with her prophetic Silent Spring -- is that we can then go back to some of the earliest parts of the Bible and see them as living and urgent. And reading Silent Spring as well as Biblical stories like the account of The Flood points to the urgency of changes that need to be made here and now in the way we all live our lives.

(See Looking at Rachel Carson (at St. Luke's "School for Prophets") )

"Although we know the end from the very beginning," says Walker, "the story is no less compelling to watch." A man, gloriously alone (except for his own reflection) on an ice-covered lake; the soothing pastel colors of the distant sky; and what seems surely to be a circle he is digging around himself with a pick-axe. A perfect parable for our headlong rush toward climate crisis?

(See How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese?)

Oil companies are valued by the market based on their reserves. The problem with this approach is that the total reserves claimed by the oil companies is FIVE TIMES what can possibly be burned without driving up the temperature of the atmosphere up by a catastrophic amount and, as McKibben puts it, "breaking the planet." How can the value of oil companies be a function of reserves that can never be used?

(See The REALLY Big Short: The Jig is Up with Oil Companies)