Two disclaimers up front:
- I originally posted this at HBC and it was not received so well. Which is fine, and I wrote a follow up that you can read [here] which is much more hopeful.
- I do not expect anyone to like this or agree with this. I am simply put it out there for conversation.
The Summer philosophy group that I am a part of is reading The Faith of the Faithless by Simon Critchley. It is an wild, tour-de-force type of work that spans genres and categories. This past week it broached something that touched a nerve for me.
The most extreme expression of human arrogance… is the idea that human beings can save the planet from environmental destruction. Because they are killer apes, that is, by virtue of a naturalized version of original sin that tends them towards wickedness and violence, human beings cannot redeem their environment.
Furthermore, the earth doesn’t need saving… The earth is suffering from disseminated primatemaia, a plague of people. Homo rapiens is ravaging the planet like a filthy pest that has infested a dilapidated but once beautiful mansion. In 1600 the human population was about half a billion. In the 1990’s it increased by the same amount.
This plague cannot be solved by the very species who are the efficient cause of the problem … When the earth is done with humans, it will recover and human civilization will be forgotten. Life will on on, but without us. Global warming is simply one of many fevers that the earth has suffered during its history. It will recover, but we won’t because we can’t. – p. 110
This reminded me something that an old podcast interview with Michael Dowd first awakened me to. Dowd is the author of Thank God for Evolution and he has an incredible knack for articulating his unique perspective.
Dowd talks about the power of participating in a narrative. His assertion is that we are participating in the wrong narrative! If we think that humans are the crown achievement of a project that began about 10,000 years ago and was finished in a 6 day period … a project that humans were give dominion over – then we live one way. [often this dominion is mis-interpreted as domination and has resulted in everything from unchecked capitalism to environmental policies such as “drill baby drill” for instance]
Dowd has this theory that humans who living under this narrative are participating in the earth as a cancer does in the body. Cancer is a biological part of the body. It is made up of the same matter that comprise the body that hosts it. But cancer is under the impression that the body that hosts it is a rival to be overcome and defeated. The cancer cells rally together to take over the body. They eventually multiply and expand to the point they endanger the very body that not only gave rise to it but that sustains it.
Ever since the Enlightenment and Descartes’ dualism, a certain set of the human population has believed that while humans are biologically mammals that they are not animals. Continuing on that while we originally were apart of the earth, we are above the earth. We are different than the rest of creation. While we came from the earth – from dust we came – we are not dependent on the earth for our very life. [I touched on this at my own blog in Nipples and Bellybuttons and the Imago dei ]
Because christian humans live by the wrong narrative, we behave as a cancer on the planet. In increasing size and exponential growth we consume at greater and greater levels, consuming the very body that gives host to our existence. At some point, the cancer ends up compromising the functions (organs) that give life to the organism in which it lives. Death ensues. We are not worried about because we think Jesus is coming back soon – it is the end times after all (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I saw one). *
Humans that are not willing to engage the ideas of emergence and evolution are living by a cancerous narrative that will extinguish the very host that gives it life. Humans that have a short view of history and a high view of their place in the created order behave in ways that are inherently cancerous to the ecosystems that support and sustain them.
If we don’t wake up and acknowledge that we have been living by a false narrative we will eventually (sooner or later) overtake the host body’s capacity to renew itself and continue to survive and prosper. This 6 day – 10,000 year old narrative is resulting in a cancerous attitude that is killing the planet.
- If Critchley is right, then we as killer apes can not save the planet – in fact we wouldn’t even care.
- If Dowd is correct, we wouldn’t even try because we thought we didn’t need to. We would be living by a different narrative.
* The book of Revelation is a political commentary on Roman politics of the first three centuries written in the form of apocalyptic literature.
June 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm
Does it have to be so dualistic? Is it possible to believe that humans are the “crowning jewel” in some ways (Jesus did say we’re “more precious” than birds) and at the same time not act like the earth is ours to rape and pillage as we please?
For me, it’s a matter of whether “dominion” means that we are in power or authority over the earth. Power is coercive, violent and destructive. Authority is cooperative, persuasive, and comes hand-in-hand with a sense of responsibility.
It was difficult to jump into the conversation the first time around because I was having a hard timing finding a place to start in what felt like a false either/or scenario.
June 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm
Well, I certianly live in that 3rd space 😉 I think that the difference is that we live BY are narrative.
I mean, by that, I used to live by a ‘Short’ story. A short time ago God quickly made the world and will shortly return to set things to right.
I new live by a much longer story and think that it might take a while . 😉 but I am not where Critchley is. I believe in the imago dei and in dominion (not domination).
Does that work for you? It’s not dualistic 🙂 -Bo
June 28, 2012 at 12:15 am
Yes. I see your point, thanks. And I’m with you.
I think I may just be suffering from a little theological PTSD after my own recent conversation with an ape where I learned that “all that save the planet junk” is not just a waste of time, but sinful, because it just delays the second coming. Seriously.
I’m just a bit confused by exactly what Critchley’s getting at, not that I would presume to get his entire thesis out of this one excerpt. But it seems that what he’s suggesting is even more scathing than the most conservative approaches to the idea of original sin. We’re not just vile, worthless creatures as a result of the fall. We’re cancerous to the Earth because of our very DNA. And world doesn’t need saved, because the only unharmful thing we stupid, loathsome creatures could ever manage to do is collectively jump off the nearest cliff, thereby ridding the earth of the poison of our existence?
That’s some weird, angsty, emo-lectual lovechild that I just don’t quite know what to do with.