Pope to Earth: Take care of our home!
Pope Francis has shaken the world and taken the United States by storm. His shifting of moral emphasis from personal, micro behavior—same-sex marriage, abortion, e.g.—to macro societal is causing upheavals not only within the Universal Church but also the social-political world.
While homosexual acts and abortion remain mortal sins in Francis’s Catholic universe, of greater magnitude is the havoc wrought by humans on each other and the natural environment, God’s creation from the Christian perspective.
The friction between traditionalists and Francis is more than philosophical. It is theological.
Because of his Jesuit education and his South American lineage, Francis has a more expansive view of reality than many Americans north of the Rio Grande. It is comparative to Greece v. Germany, and is instructive.
Francis puts it succinctly: Earth is our common home. How that message is received depends on one’s origination belief. If one operates from literal reading of Genesis, Francis’s point would likely elicit either a “So what?” or “It is and it’s our ethical duty to take care of it” reaction. Though vastly different, they share a common element: detachment from nature.
A polar-opposite response is one that gets at the core of conservative angst: Earth is more than our home; we are as much an aspect of nature as every other sentient being, codependent with equal right to existence. That is the essentialism of indigenous peoples’ spiritual practice.
In his work “God is Red,” Vine Deloria, a Native American Time magazine named one of greatest religious thinkers of the 20th century, explores the fundamental difference between Christianity, and by extension Islam and Judaism, and Indian religion. He puts it in context of the time-space continuum.
The three Great Religions are time based, he asserts, beginning with creation to the present. They tell the story of God’s ongoing exasperation with his special creation, whom he set above and in charge of every other species.
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it,” he said, “and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:28, NASV)
With Indian spiritualism, Deloria explains, history/time is incidental. What is essential is a people’s relationship to the place in which it lives. Think of the Plains Indians relationship with the buffalo. From that perspective, even the notion of what makes certain places sacred originates from different impulses.
“Just as temporal (time-based) world religions find a place for sacred sites,” writes Deloria, “so spatial religions deal with the passage of time and the increasing complexity that it brings to human society by attaching stories to sacred places.”
Modern humans went off track some 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. We dissolved our bond with nature and set out to do what the author of Genesis encouraged us to do. Ours has been a history from domestication and proscription—written rules to live by—to dogma and smartphones. Nature went from being revered to something to be feared and, thus, tamed.
Deloria cites another great 20th-century thinker, Albert Camus. In “The Rebel,” Camus writes, “When nature ceases to be an object of contemplation and admiration, it can be nothing more than material for an action that aims at transforming it.”
Bertrand Russel held that dogmatic religion arose from fear of nature and man’s compulsion to control it vis-à-vis a deity that had ultimate power. If we could, through supplication, get God to do our will, we could control everything from rainfall to other humans.
North American Indians and South Americans generally, progeny of both indigenous and Mediterranean cultures, understand that better than non-indigenous North Americans. Our culture is based on Gen 1:28 and rooted in the Puritan work ethic and Teutonic Calvinism, where the measure of a person is the wealth of his/her portfolio.
Francis more than gets that, even though his message—Earth is our common home—is falling on tin ears of the corporate and religious elite here in the United States.
In my fantasy world, I envision interviewing God on KYGT. My first question: You empowered man and directed him to subdue the earth. How’s that working out for you?
Correction: John Ewers’ service to the community at the John Tomay Library is 38 years not 34 as I wrote. My apologies.