Picking up the Sunday New York Times this morning, I’m disappointed by the philosophical egregiousness of op-ed contributor Thomas Friedman. Friedman laments the Senate Democrats’ abandonment of an “energy/climate bill.” His opinion to this point bothers me nonesuch. But he continues, appealing to the common-sense, scientific understanding of creation held by “green builder” and LEED-founder Rob Watson.
As [Watson] likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson.
The intellectual haughtiness implied in the assumption that we have a comprehensive grasp of the laws of chemistry, biology and physics, can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven, and what demands immediate correction, is Friedman’s view—shared no doubt by many—that “Mother Nature” can really be boiled down to a few abstract principles.
Doesn’t this stress the maternal metaphor to its breaking point? No one, I believe, has a mother whose concrete existence could be easily digested as pure information.
It seems to me that Friedman is missing the point of the whole environmental movement, which is to reintroduce an element of sacredness and mystery to our transactions with the earth. As James and Michael Himes noted as early as 1992, we ought to learn to address the non-human creation as “thou” instead of as “it.” This is precisely why the movement is so popular amongst young Christians as well as amongst folks with resonances in other religious traditions.
But I think Christians need to do a better job of witnessing to the sacred in creation. What does it look like to those in other traditions that most American Christians accept full-stop the rape of creation as “necessary to economic growth”? Now that a division within the environmental movement has been revealed–between the scientific secularists for whom “sustainability” is simply a logical formula to be followed, and the tree-hugging hippies for whom earth-care is just that, an act of love–where will the Christian community take its stand?
I don’t want to pretend that these are the only motivational options for stewardship, but I do want to highlight the difference it makes to believe in something called “sacred” or “divine.” Believing in such opens up alternatives to the dominant pattern of one’s life, which may be narrowly stressful or hopelessly depressing. It offers the promise of a fresh encounter with Reality. And this, if we take ourselves seriously, is the foundation for all Christian witness. Is it not?