Global Warming, Global Warning: Time to put Original Blessing Before Original Sin Spring 2009
A time of global warming is a time of global warning. It is time for humans to wake up and to grow up. And our religions and governments along with us. The paradigm shift from Original Sin to Original Blessing offers profound implications for our struggles for a healthy earth and for eco-justice. Allow me to articulate a few of those implications in this essay.
- First is the awareness—lost in great part during the ‘modern era’ which was so centered on the human agenda—that we humans are only a part of the great drama that creation is revealing itself to be. (And has always so revealed itself but we shut our eyes to much of it and committed what Thomas Berry called “autism” in cutting ourselves off from nature during the modern era.) The gift of creation, whether we are talking about clean and abundant water (the governor of California has just declared an official “drought” in the state where I live), healthy soil, vibrant forests, happy trees, abundant and thriving species of animals, fishes, insects (the bees are disappearing) and birds—all these are original blessings. Like everything original and everything good (“blessing” is the theological word for “goodness”), they deserve not to be taken for granted. Will we miss them only after they are gone? Will polar bears matter and elephants, tigers and lions, only after they have gone extinct? What can prevent their extinction from happening? A sense of gratitude. A sense of reverence. All this comes from awe, from an awesome encounter with the beauty of nature’s diverse giftedness. An awakening to the original blessing that all creation has been and continues to be to all of us.
Not only has creation blessed us abundantly with its beauty and diversity and necessary constituents such as healthy soil and seeds, rainfall and ozone, sunshine and clouds, trees and animals, but nature must be wondering where our gratitude lies. Is our gratitude showing? A perspective of original blessing awakens such gratitude and moves us to both defend the blessing that nature is and to not take it for granted.
In mystical traditions both East and West, nature is presented to us as the incarnation of the divine. The word “incarnation” means to take on flesh. The Divine takes on flesh in the orange, in the rainforest, in the tiger, in the wheat, in the human also. In the East they might talk of the “Buddha nature” in all beings and in the West we might talk of the “Christ in all things” or Wisdom in all things. The name is not what counts. What counts is the immediate experience we have of the divine in nature. Mahatma Gandhi said: Gandhi: “All embodied life is in reality an incarnation of God, but it is not usual to consider every living being an incarnation.” It may not be usual but maybe it ought to be.
Most people experience the Divine through deep experiences in nature. Most people are nature mystics. Nature of course includes human nature. What humans give birth to in art and poetry, music and ritual, books and children, love making and healing, architecture and insight—all this too is the “word made flesh” or Divinity incarnated.
Silly are those who complain that “this is worshipping nature and not God.” Silly because such people presume God is outside of nature. They deny the immanence of Divinity, set God outside the sky and above all of nature. Above and beyond. Perfect for one’s projections. “Christ without creation is pure projections” warned the Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, a number of years ago. Christ is in all things. God is in all things. Spirit blows through all things. God is not only transcendent but also immanent. God is the “one in whom we live, move and have our being” says the Book of Acts. This is panentheism which means God in all things and all things in God. Projecting God beyond and outside of nature is theism and theism gives birth to atheism and is a weak theology indeed. The great fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart said that “only ignorant people” deny that God is in all things.
- If we understood all creation as original blessing instead of original sin life would be much more peaceful than it often is. Less competition. More at-home-ness with what is. More gratitude. More joy. Less greed, less drivenness, less gobbling up of the earth’s resources. Simpler living. Just yesterday I was talking with a young man who told me he had wanted to take a vacation but did not have the money to travel. So he decided to volunteer at a center for AIDS patients and to offer massage there which is his chosen profession. So instead of spending money and fuel on vacation he is finding a kind of vacation and recreation by serving others and by offering his gifts for free to those who especially need them, the gift of touch. He sees in these ill people the original blessing that we do not see if we avoid the places where they congregate or find ourselves in fast track lifestyles that prefer spending money to being-with, rushing around to being in touch with others, gossiping to listening, making money to practicing compassion, being served to service and serving.
- What grows and grows in the context of original blessing is a deeper and renewed sense of community. How important is that? The modern era left us estranged, lonely, cosmically alone in the universe. Being taught as we were that the universe is a machine was another way of saying: “You are on your own. Find your own meaning. Find your own connections. Inflate your ego. It’s okay. It’s the survival of the fittest. Even the tiny atoms are waging war for space and do not inter connect. Competition is all there is.” The universe became a lonely place under this modern cosmology and the results were vast and sad in the human soul. Violence, loneliness, ego-mania, all flourished. And there was no where to pour out our grief at all we were losing so from this bottled up grief our creativity became blocked and an inability to connect to the whole was rampant.
This is why community is so important in our time. Because we have been cut off from it for so long. But today’s science is the mirror opposite of the modern consciousness of individuality and rugged survival of the fittest. Today’s science is rediscovering how our interdependence is the most foundational of our relationships. My breath and yours interpenetrate thirty minutes after being in the same room. Your breath and mine contain molecules from all over the planet. Community already is. We are breathing in one another’s water vapor after all.
What we need to do is to celebrate community anew and in forms that are elastic enough to allow for all the creativity that wants to express itself, all the creativity that is waiting to come alive. A recent movement that calls itself the Creation Spirituality Community movement is trying to do just that: To honor the need for community today in forms that are elastic enough to welcome great diversity but focused enough to make sense and make a difference in one’s life. This group is gathering July 31-August 3 at De Pauw University near Indianapolis and can be reached online at www.CreationSpirituality.info.
A new and deeper sense of community will itself be an original blessing, it will inspire and support creativity in all its needed dimensions today—the remaking of economics, politics, religion, education, media, work itself—that are so needed if our species is to be sustainable.
Original sin and the many ideologies spawned by it (such as consumerism and advertising) creates great havoc in the human soul and in human community. Original sin ideologies feed pessimism and self-doubt and often lead to self-hatred and despair and depression. In the year 2004 American doctors wrote over 147 million prescriptions for anti-depressents. Maybe original sin ideologies are contributing to such a wave of sadness and acedia (the capitol sin our medieval ancestors named “the lack of energy to begin new things”). Acedia is despair, depression, apathy, couchpotatoitis. It has sometimes been defined as ‘sloth.’ It is a spiritual sadness. It is eating our culture up. It is behind our compulsion to buy things and so many addictions, all of which easily take over one’s soul whether they be addictions to shopping , drinking, drugs, what have you. Original sin ideologies set pessimism in motion.
Original blessing consciousness, on the other hand, sets creativity in motion. It ignites growth and curiosity, learning and wonder, possibility and creativity back into our souls. The great psychologist Otto Rank observed that “pessimism comes from a repression of creativity.” Original blessing theology is not pessimistic; it spawns hope. It connects us to the deep down goodness in things and in all our relations and renders us awestruck just to be here, just to be part of the history and wonder of our universe, our amazing planet, our varied communities. It drives one not to wallow in regret or victimhood but to rejoice, to sing, to thank, to praise. And if we have praised deeply enough, then the warrior in us who is called to defend the earth and even to change our ways of living on the earth, can and will emerge.
Recently I was speaking of these things and of the need for masculine spirituality that awakens men and gets them acting deeply out of their deepest values and a middle aged man came up to me and said: “You are right. I am watching far too much television and sports on TV. I am going to get my life back.” Yes, we can get our lives back. Biophilia—love of life—is offered to all of us. Pessimism, anthropocentrism, and original sin ideologies not withstanding, we can move to original blessing and the world will be better for it. And we will be better for it. Compassion and justice flow from this renewed passion for living and gratitude for life. For it is natural to defend what one cherishes and a lover, one who has tasted original blessing, is deeply in love with life. That is what original blessing teaches: To love life at all costs and with all your passion. Interestingly, St Thomas Aquinas the great medieval theologian observed that the solution to acedia and its many brothers and sisters is falling in love. For he said that zeal (which is the opposite of acedia) comes from an “intense experience of the beauty of things.” That is original blessing—an intense experience of the beauty and gratuity of things. This triggers our falling in love again--it is our medicine, the antidote to pessimism and despair.
The late Ernest Becker put is bluntly when he wrote: “Modern man’s meaninglessness is a problem of what to do with life, what to do with it beyond simply living it out in a completely fetishized way…. This is why modern man whines so pitifully with the burden of life—he has nothing ultimate to dedicate it to; nothing infinite to assume responsible for; nothing self-transcending to be truly courageous about. He has only himself, his dazzling and diverting little consumer objects; his few closely huddled loved ones; his lifespan; his life-insurance his place in a merely biological and financial chain of things.” (Awe pp. 24f). Here surely we have an epitaph on the modern Western soul, on what happens when a whole culture succumbs to the pessimism of an original sin ideology and strives to fill the hole in the soul with consumer goodies and fetishes.
All biblical scholars worthy of the name acknowledge that neither Jesus nor any Jew before Jesus ever heard of original sin. Original sin is not a biblical concept. It was first uttered as a term by the fourth century theologian, St. Augustine, who lived in a time of great pessimism and who did not understand the Jewish story of the Fall told in the Book of Genesis. Jesus did understand original blessing however and all the gifts that have come from the hands and heart of the Creator.
Clearly an original blessing consciousness represents a whole new (and ancient) way to go, a direction not only of joy and promise and creativity, but of responsibility as well. The earth as we know it is waiting to see if humans will respond to the challenge. Whether we will stand up not only for our own survival but for the sustainability of the rest of creation as we know it. We will not survive without all of creation surviving. For all our relations are blessed and revelatory. All our relations inspire us to community, compassion and beyond. They are all original for we did not make them. They were here long before we arrived on the scene.