My G🌎 D, What Have We Done?

Column by Michael Dowd on 27 January 2022 0 Comments

 

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima,
Japan — the first time such a catastrophic weapon was used in conflict. As the
city disappeared under a mushroom cloud, Captain Robert Lewis, co-pilot
of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the weapon, “Little Boy”,
wrote in his journal My God, what have we done?

I had originally planned to title this essay “Honest to G🌎 D”, in honor of Bishop John A.T. Robinson’s 1963 book that inspired a generation of progressive Christians. But upon my third watching of the Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up”, I realized that the co-pilot’s now-famous lament would be my lead.

My thesis is simply this: A comet actually is heading our way. We ourselves set it in motion millennia ago. But only recently have scientists, echoing longstanding Indigenous warnings, charted its course and voiced the alarm. Its name is Anthropocentrism and these are the End Times because human-centeredness will prove to be nearly as devastating as the comet in the movie.

By Fate or by Failure

Fate, in human experience, is a future that happens to us regardless of our own actions. As defined by sociologist C. Wright Mills, “Fate is the summary outcome not intended by anyone but resulting from innumerable small decisions about other matters by innumerable people.” ~ William R. Catton, Jr.

The gifts of awareness and understanding brought forth by the scientific endeavor have been trailing a latent and growing shadow. This shadow is now so immense and terrifying that there is much to lament about the course we have taken. Could it have been different?

Let us reflect on just one facet of how the discoveries of science have been applied: access to and deployment of Earth’s reserves of stored energy.

To begin, might the British have said “no” to digging coal in Newcastle? What about using that coal to power steam engines for digging deeper, transporting it across oceans? Could Americans have said “no” in Pennsylvania or Texas to turning a foul-smelling liquid into black gold? What about fracking bedrock to dislodge the remaining natural gas and petroleum liquids in Ohio, Oklahoma, the Dakotas?

What about leases for deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? (Oops, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in 2010.) Then selling leases again December 2021?

And what about utilizing the same energy stores to produce plastic and to draw nitrogen fertilizers out of thin air?

How, in sum, could any new technology that offered big and immediate human benefits have been thwarted by the mere possibility of future risks? Indeed, if problems did arise, the thinking went, human ingenuity would once again come to the rescue. We imagined there were no limits to the advance and growth of industrial civilization!

I have come to accept that each step of energy extraction and technological deployment was, in a way, inevitable. No council of wise elders could have assessed the true costs and benefits — and certainly not if charged to consider the consequences seven generations ahead. Equally, for those in power, who could remain in power if they accepted a “no” vote of such counsel?

What aggregation of peoples could survive long saying no to any new technology if a yes was eventually put in play somewhere else?

Recent history offers an example. The Chinese found a way to mix chemical elements to produce the marvels of fireworks. But when other peoples on the Eurasian continent began using the same mixture for propelling cannonballs and bullets, “gunpowder” became a necessity everywhere in the world. Dubbed “the parable of the tribes,” this kind of evolutionary arms race is regarded by some historians as a matter of fate. Ditto “ecological overshoot” and now also the anthropogenic causes of today’s biodiversity and climate crises.

Looking to the future, we come to this: Whether we arrived at our species predicament by fate or failure, the period of industrial exploitation is over. Peak energy, peak consumption, peak globalization, peak soil, peak phosphorus, peak food, peak habitat, peak progress — each is already in the rearview mirror.

Progressive Christianity Today

Fundamentally, it is time for progressive Christians to reckon with the very notion of progress — that anthropocentric “advancement” is even a good thing in the long run. What may well have presented as a template for human progress a half century ago can no longer be viewed through the same lens.

I offer here a possibility. Let’s stop trivializing God.

As modeled in the title of this essay, I propose that “God” be spelled (and more importantly, taken to heart) as G🌎 D. The planet in all its manifestations thus becomes the center of what is holy; not the entirety, but what rivets our attention.

G🌎 D, our living Creator, Sustainer, and End, is indeed our “ultimate concern” — that which we respect and revere, that which we serve above all else.

Following on the teachings of Jewish scholar Martin Buber, the living biosphere transforms into a greater “Thou”, no longer a lesser “it”.

Today’s movement for the rights of nature (Earth jurisprudence) is another path toward biocentric valuation. Indigenous peoples are, in this case, leading the way. They and their allies have already secured legal personhood for sacred lands and rivers in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, India, Bangladesh, New Zealand, and most recently in the Canadian province of Quebec. Surely, this is an inviting path forward for progressive Christians. A flag we can carry to demonstrate our alliance, our allegiance, our support might well be this: G🌎 D.

In a 2017 essay, “The Way Home for the Prodigal Species,” and two recent videos, “G🌎 D: Owning Our Error, Accepting Our Fate” and “Sustainability 101: Indigenuity Is Not Optional,” I reinterpreted our biblical heritage in ecocentric ways. We are in fact the prodigal species. We have squandered not only our own inheritance but that of nearly every other form of life. Human-centeredness has proved to be the most heinous form of idolatry. The ancients may have dissed God; we are defiling G🌎 D.

Human-centeredness in our language, in our portrayal of the divine, in our notion of rights and responsibilities is inherently anti-future. It cannot be sustained. As Edward Goldsmith details in his magnum opus, The Way: An Ecological Worldview, virtually every sustainable culture that we know of held three things in common: (1) they related to the local, living presence of reality (what we dismissively call “the environment”) in a humble, reverential, I-Thou way; (2) this incarnational presence of the divine
(G🌎 D) was honored as the source of all benefits and all real wealth for the community; and (3) preservation of the health and wellbeing of the body of life was the sacred responsibility.

Human wellbeing is thus a consequence of right relationship to reality — not the focal point for decision-making. Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer encourages us all to regard plants and animals as kin. More, they are “our first teachers.” Fruit and flesh are gifts, warranting gratitude and reciprocal action.

Meanwhile, and drawing upon early Greek expressions of ecological wisdom, American scholar William Ophuls presents humility, moderation, and connection as a trinity of virtues worth reviving.

G🌎 D’s Judgment

“Sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

“G🌎 D’s Judgment” is of course a mythic phrasing of “our banquet of consequences.” Accumulating over generations long before our own, this unwelcome feast can also be understood as “karma.” It is the inevitable fruit of anthropocentric institutions, governance — and religions.

Industrial civilization is threatened by a “planet killer” of its own making. Here is where we now stand:

• No matter who is voted into or out of office, no matter how many people
take to the streets, become vegan, stop flying or reproducing, no matter
how much ‘evolution of consciousness’ might be cultivated, and no matter
how many solar panels and wind turbines are installed…

• The ice of the world will keep melting and weirding out the jet stream.
Methane and nitrous oxide (super-potent greenhouse gasses) will
continue to belch from permafrost and polar seas. Forests everywhere
will continue to incinerate, overwhelming our carbon-mitigation efforts.
Acidifying oceans will continue to dissolve the calcium casings of coral,
plankton, and shellfish. Hurricanes, tornados, heat domes, floods,
droughts: all will grow ever more damaging, deadly.

Our human-centeredness is causing the 6th mass extinction. Homo colossus is surely on the list. Homo sapiens may be, too.

Redemption

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance: where are you in the vaunted “stages of grief”? And is doom automatically the end point?

Mid 2019, and building upon Paul Chefurka’s notion of finding the gift on the other side of acceptance, I began to explore (with others) the possibility of compassionate “post-doom” forms of awareness. (I see “post-doom” as akin to compost theology, or regenerative grace — a secular name for resurrection.) Sure enough, multiple paths were already recognizable and inviting. Quite a few of my interlocutors (Paul Chefurka, Joanna Macy, among them) call upon Buddhist teachings for their ways forward. Several (notably, Shaun Chamberlain) speak of the emotional and spiritual equanimity he gains from Taoist writings.

Post-doom conversations from a Christian platform were numerous: Richard Rohr, Damaris Zehner, Sid Smith, Robert Jensen, Gail Tverberg, and the Seminary of the Wild Guides (Victoria Loorz, Matt Syrdal, Brian Stafford, and Bryan Smith). I encourage readers of this publication to explore them all, as well as the mind-expanding post-doom resources and soul-nourishing “post doom, no gloom” zoom calls.

But here, I will close with the final prayer of Jesus at his own end time, on the cross. For me, these words are comforting, even redemptive…

”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

~ Rev. Michael Dowd

 

To listen to an audio narration of this essay click HERE
To see a video presentation of this essay, click HERE
 

Question

With the continuing political polarity across our nation for those of different races, cultures, sexualities, and genders, where do LGBTQIA+ people find the resources and advocacy to thrive in today’s less progressive churches?

Answer

This is an interesting question- the truth is that all around the world, thousands of progressive, inclusive churches are emerging that are drawing LGBTQ+ people and our allies out of the pews of non-inclusive churches into spaces of true inclusion and embrace. (To see many of these churches, check out GayChurch.org)

For those who may not have a progressive, inclusive church geographically near them, many turn to the internet to find inclusive community. Through social media groups to progressive clergy on TikTok, millions of people are being connected to resources that help them reinivision their faith in ways that allow them to bring their full self to the table. In the past two years, for instance, I have gained a following of nearly 200k people on the app TikTok where I proclaim progressive Christian messages every week. I actually left ministry in a brick-and-mortar church, in part, to start a virtual faith community for these thousands of people and now every week through Metanoia Church, (metanoiacenter.org) hundreds gather via Zoom to be a part of a fully virtual inclusive community. So, our virtual world has made it easier than ever for people in every part of the world to be connected to resources and real community that embraces them just as they are.

The last thing I’ll mention is that there are dozens of international non-profits dedicated for reformation within the Church around LGBTQ+ inclusion. Groups like Q Christian Fellowship, The European Symposium of LGBTQ+ Christians, One Body, One Faith, We Are Church, Changing Attitudes, and the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBTQ+ Lives all offer resources for LGBTQ+ Christians and our allies to cultivate a progressive, inclusive faith and I’d highly encourage you to check them out!

~ Rev. Brandan Robertson

 

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