© Rex A E Hunt
22 April 2012. Earth Day
Preached at Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship, Sydney, NSW, Australia
A Liturgy is also available
EAARTH DAY AND G-O-D! BEYOND ‘BELIEF’ TO ‘MYSTERY’ AND ‘CREATIVITY’
It was Christmas Eve in December 1968.
Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon,
the American astronauts busy photographing possible landing sites
for the missions that would follow.
“On the fourth orbit, Commander Frank Borman decided to roll the craft away from the moon and tilt its windows toward the horizon – he needed a navigational fix. What he got, instead, was a sudden view of the earth, rising. “Oh my God,” he said. “Here’s the earth coming up.” Crew member Bill Anders grabbed a camera and took the photograph that became the iconic image perhaps of all time” (McKibben 2010:2)
The space agency NASA gave the image the code name AS8-14-2383
But we now know it as “Earthrise”, a picture
“of a blue-and-white marble floating amid the vast backdrop of space, set against the barren edge of the lifeless moon” (McKibben 2010:2).
This image, along with another of Earth from space,
called “Blue Marble”, and taken by crew on board Apollo 17 four years later,
has appeared in TV mini-series,
scientific publications and school text books,
on greeting cards, a postage stamp, and advertising posters,
not to mention having their own pages on Wikipedia!
As the other Apollo 8 Crew member, Jim Lovell, put it:
“the earth… suddenly appeared as ‘a grand oasis’” (McKibben 2010:2).
But author and environmental activist Bill McKibben has pointed out:
“…we no longer live on that planet” (McKibben 2010:2).
Not that the world has ended.
It hasn’t. You and me are still here – south east of the Wallace Line.
Earth is still a fragile web of interconnected and
interdependent forces and domains of existence.
It is still the third rock out from the sun,
located in a galaxy called the ‘Milky Way”,
“three-quarters water. Gravity still pertains; we’re still earthlike” (McKibben 2010:2).
What has ended is the world as we thought we knew it.
That ‘grand oasis’ has changed in profound ways.
“We imagine we still live back on that old planet”, says McKibben,
“that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they are not. It’s a different place. A different planet. It needs a new name” (McKibben 2010:2).
That ‘different planet’ has been brought about by Global warming.
The sudden surge in both greenhouse gases and global temperatures.
And “a series of ominous feedback effects” (McKibben 2010:20).
Today is Earth Day 2012.
The 42nd anniversary of what many consider the birth
of the modern environment movement in 1970.
In the world of science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the Earth’s age
is approximately 4.5 billion years. While the universe - that whole
“complex, interrelated and interacting... matter-energy in space-time... of which humans are an integral part...” (Gillette 2006:1).
is approximately 14 billion years old.
So, ‘modern’ science is saying and has been saying, again and again:
the universe must be regarded as a whole:
it is of intrinsic value, and each part,
participates in that intrinsic value as each part or web, participates
in this wonderful web of life.
Each part, rather than one species or organism
separating itself out as more important than the rest.
As Karl Peters, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion, and former
President of the Centre for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, writes:
“Our planet, its life forms, and our own bodies contain the oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, iron, and other elements from earlier exploding stars. We are ‘star stuff’ – a part of the matter that was created earlier in the universe’s history” (Peters 2002:15).
Turning to the world of religion past one story seems to have ruled.
The popular belief that a mythical story in a collection of stories called Genesis,
mandates the claim that humans are to dominate nature.
Further, G-o-d, in terms of this story, is pictured as a sky-God.
Earth came into existence in October 4,004 BCE.
And in turn, human beings, as bearers of God's image,
are regarded essentially as ‘souls’ taking up
temporary residence in their earthly bodies.
This popular religious belief was seriously challenged by Lynn White,
in what is now his famous 1967 article,
‘The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis’.
An article published several months before Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon.
An article some have suggested should be compared
to Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” (Santmire 2000:11).
In that article White suggests
Christianity's attack on so-called pagan religion
effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning.
Indeed, Christianity replaced the belief that the ‘sacred’ is in rivers and trees,
with the doctrine that G-o-d is a disembodied spirit
whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.
The impact of this religious teaching has tended to empty
the biosphere of any sense of God's presence in natural things.
“By destroying pagan (religions), Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects” (White 1967).
White goes on to suggest, in this sense the ecological crisis:
irreversible ozone depletion,
higher than acceptable methane gas concentrations,
is fundamentally a spiritual crisis.
It is not sufficient, of course, to uncover the demons in our past.
For 250+ years now a new religion story has been evolving.
The ‘naturalistic’ strand of religion shaped by former
Harvard University theologian, Gordon Kaufman, for instance,
presents G-o-d as a non-personal ‘serendipitous creativity’
“manifest throughout the cosmos instead of as a kind of cosmic person. We humans are deeply embedded in, and basically sustained by, this creative activity in and through the web of life on planet Earth (Kaufman 2004:58).
I reckon Kaufman clearly names the problem with
traditional religious language and thinking.
His alternative thinking and language embraces both our
scientific knowledge and the reality
beyond the symbols of biblical faith.
And… the notion of creativity carries with it a strong note of mystery.
“Creativity happens: this is an absolutely amazing mystery – even though we may in certain cases, for example with the evolution of life, be able to specify some of the conditions without which it could not happen” (Kaufman 2004:56).
Likewise, this close connection with the idea of ‘mystery’,
makes ‘creativity’ a good metaphor for thinking about God.
Because it preserves the ultimacy of the mystery of God,
while connecting God with the coming into being – in time – of
the new and the novel.
And the selection of some of these possibilities to continue.
Thus, liberal or progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us
to ‘dance with’, to live in harmony with, our world.
Today is Earth Day 2012.
McKibben says it is a different Earth now in 2012
and needs a different name. Perhaps Eaarth!
And it is a good day to remind ourselves once again, that
“Out of the stars in their flight,
out of the dust of eternity,
here have we come…” (Weston 1993).
But today might also be a good day to ask a couple of related questions:
(i) How old are we really?
(ii) How long will we continue?
To the first question Old religion says 6,016 years.
Where did it get that answer? The Bible!
On what evidence? The Bible!
I have long grown tired of that kind of fundamentalist circularity.
Progressive religion and science responds:
“[p]henomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years” (Peters 1992:412).
To the second question: ‘How long will we continue?’
Old religion says until ‘Judgment Day’ or ‘parousia’, or the ‘Second Coming’,
(which some said was going to be October 2011!),
- all dancing “in disordered pandemonium” (Cox 2004:290).
Progressive religion and science responds:
“[p]henomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5) billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never…” (Peters 1992:412).
Progressive religion’s answers are a kind of hopeful cosmic recipe
for the functioning of all things.
But above all, progressive religion says religion is human.
It is about us.
“It is about manipulating our brains so that we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively” (Rue 2005:1).
Today is marked as Earth Day 2012.
It’s worth celebrating.
‘Global warming’ is not a future tense statement.
It doesn’t just concern our grandchildren.
It concerns us.
It will not go away – despite the babbling mouthings of the Alan Joneses
and Ray Hadleys and Andrew Bolts of this world.
Earth is a precious living habitat.
Earth is a fragile web of ecosystems (Habel 2009:43-46).
The universe is not a-part from us. We are it.
Likewise, we don’t have to be addicted to the apocalyptic scenarios
usually found in airport bookshops.
The Sacred is fully present, hidden in the ordinary details of a life, any life.
Expressed in ‘creativity’ and ‘mystery’, ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’.
Allow yourself to be shaped by this creativity and this wonder.
But where to start?
Start with your own life.
Start with the fifty trillion cells of your body
that are converting energy to make protein right now
so you can hear these words
and read the Service notes.
Or start with the awareness that the body you are carrying around now
won’t be the body you’ll be carrying around seven years from now.
It will have completely rebuilt itself from the inside out.
Or start with your own irrepressible urge to be more,
to realise the fullness of your potential,
or to fashion the best life possible from
your precious years on Earth (Sanguin 2012:138).
Cox, H. G. When Jesus Came to Harvard. Making Moral Choices Today. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2004.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for religious naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6, 2006.
Habel, N. An Inconvenient Text: Is a Green Reading of the Bible Possible? Hindmarsh: ATF Press, 2009.
Kaufman, G. D. In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.
McKibben, B. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne: Black Inc., 2010.
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2002.
----, “Interrelating nature, humanity, and the work of God: Some issues for future reflection” in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 27, 4, 403-419, 1992.
Rue, L. Religion Is Not About God. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
Sanguin, B. The Advance of Love. Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart. Vancouver: Evans & Sanguin Publishing, Forthcoming 2012.
Santmire, H. P. Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology, Minneapolis: AugsburgFortress Press, 2000.