Show of hands: How many of you would say that you feel a deep connection—I will let you define what that phrase means—with nature and with the earth? You are not alone; according to Pew Research some 85% of Americans[i] claim that they feel a deep connection with nature and with the earth. 85%.
As of November 2013, 23% of Americans[ii] deny that Climate Change is real. This by the way is the highest percentage of Americans since Gallup began measuring this opinion. Despite the 9,000 scientists who have published findings affirming climate change in the past two years, of which only one article, count them, only one article in 9,000 refuted that climate change was man-made. If anyone tells you there is no consensus in the scientific community on climate change being real and man-made—tell them they don’t know the meaning of the word. 99.99% of scientists publishing in the past two years declare that climate change is real and man-made. That is not only consensus; that is considered a unanimous vote in many Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Everything that is alive on this planet from the smallest microbe in the primordial ooze to the largest animals owes their very existence to Mother Earth. To date, unless one subscribes to what Ancient Astronaut Theorists believe, we have been the only species on this planet that has the ability to cause its own extinction. We are currently on the verge of the sixth mass extinction event on earth. A report found in Newsweek[iii] recently stated that because of acceleration of climate change we are facing the loss of habitats for half of the amphibians in the USA alone in the next few decades. The increased warming and acidification of the oceans may mean the loss of coral reefs and saltwater fish by the end of this century.
Mass extinction is defined by a rapid significant loss of species within a relatively short period of time due to a global event or events that occur too rapidly for species to adapt. Now mother earth will most assuredly survive this mass extinction. It has survived the other five mass extinction events by creatively circumventing the environment but we may not. She will spawn new children and perhaps those children will understand the gift of life she has offered them.
Part of our total disregard for Gaia, the greek mythological name for our mother earth, is based in the theology of western civilization. It is a theology that has been integrated into the DNA of American culture, regardless of which religion one subscribes. The theology comes from a literal reading of a passage in the book of Genesis but it is a theology that has shaped the American persona of privilege these past 240 years.
In the King James Version of the book of Genesis we find this passage: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. … And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Pay attention to this phrase: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over… Other translations read: Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over (International Standard Version); Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over (New English Translation); Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over (New Living Translation)
Here is one scholar’s commentary on this passage: And replenish the earth. … This clause may be described as the colonist’s charter. And subdue it. The commission thus received was to utilize for his necessities the vast resources of the earth, by agricultural and mining operations, by geographical research, scientific discovery, and mechanical invention[iv].
And so it has. When colonists landed on these shores, they saw the vastness of space, the resources to be subdued, and the opportunities for power over others. They saw themselves as having supremacy over all other races and beings. They did not see the people who already lived here, they only saw another resource—another object of their quest for dominion over the earth.
In James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the most profound lines in the movie is when the Na’vi use the phrase, “I see you.” It is the acknowledgement of the Thou in Martin Buber’s description of the I/Thou versus I/It. It is the Indian culture’s use of the word Namaste meaning the divine in me acknowledges the divine with in you. It is recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of our first principle. The colonists and dare I say most of Americans today do not ‘see’ the other standing before them and especially the other standing at a distance. To Americans the other is only a resource to be exploited to satisfy the quest to rule over others.
The colonists thought they were doing God’s will in fulfilling Genesis 1:26 & 28. And it is this self-centered self-important supremacist mindset that continues in the American culture to this day in our false belief in Exceptionalism that places the USA as the superior and therefore the recipient of not only of the world’s resources but also that of the world’s labor force.
This mandate to subdue and rule over is the cornerstone of a theology known as Dominion. Dominionists[v] have applied these verses not only to the earth’s resources but also to the governing of nations and the world. They represent a small but growing segment of the radical extremists of the far Christian right. Dominionists believe that the events of ecological disaster described in the book of Revelation are the end result of the Genesis mandate to subdue and rule over the earth. Therefore these disasters are necessary in order to usher in the rapture and Christ’s return to establish a world theocracy.
But one does not need to adhere to such extreme beliefs to embody human privilege. What is human privilege? There has been much discussion about white privilege, about male privilege, and about hetero privilege in the tabloids and social media but we have not spoken of human privilege, at least not naming it as such. So what could be considered human privilege?
Think for a moment on how the concept of privilege works. There is an underlying assumption believed to be fact that is so well integrated into the person’s world view that it is no longer a conscience thought yet all other thoughts and actions emanate from this assumption. For example, “I can stand behind another person at an ATM machine without being feared as a potential mugger.[vi]” I can also walk down the street without having people who are walking towards me cross the street. These people have automatically afforded me the benefit of the doubt simply because of my having white privilege, and they did so without so much of a thought.
Living with privilege operates in the background. It is like a sub routine in a computer program, running its course and affecting every other program I run but I do not have to focus on that sub-routine before beginning any other program. I assume that the sub-routine is already operating and therefore I do not think about it. Until the sub-routine no longer works or until it prevents me from doing something else.
The assumption that is operating is not based on an immutable fact but is an assumption that is at its heart false and can be revoked. Human privilege is based on as false an assumption as white privilege, male privilege, and American privilege. While I may benefit from the privilege bestowed on me for being white, for being male, and being American—these privileges are not inherent rights but accidents of birth or citizenship of a specific social construct. Privilege carries with it a false sense of supremacy and entitlement.
So what is human privilege? It is the worldview that whatever needs that humans have trump the needs and wellbeing of all other species on the planet. The Dominionists have taken human privilege to its extreme with the belief that humanity is the superior on earth placed here to do whatever it will to the earth with no consequences. And if there are consequences, Jesus will return in the nick of time to make everything right as rain for the chosen few.
Therefore, it is okay to plunder the earth for its resources of coal, gas, and oil because they are ours to plunder in the first place. It is okay to cut down the rain forests for its wood because they are ours to cut down. Forget about the fact there are indigenous people who have lived there for tens of thousands of years. They have what we sophisticated humans want. Forget about the fact that there are species of plants and animals that are unique to that region. They are inconsequential to the wood that is mine by birthright of being human. It is okay to dump our trash along the roads, it is just a little cigarette butt after all—what could it possibly do—cause a fire that destroys thousands of acres of land? Eh, so what, the earth’s land mass is huge. And fire is a natural force of nature, lightening causes forest fires all the time. Human privilege can rationalize any action no matter how destructive to the environment based on the assumption that we are heads and shoulders above all others and therefore have the right to act as we please toward the earth.
There is a map that can be found on Google that shows all the fires, natural and man-made on the globe at any given time. It is horrifying the number of fires that occur and the amount of carbon monoxide that is spewed into the air as a result. Another map shows the amount of carbon monoxide and it is heaviest over regions of fires and industrial nations like the US and China[vii].
Human privilege thinks nothing about the effects of pollution. There is no thinking of what will be the fate of future generations because of our actions; privilege is only concerned with the immediate benefits for this current generation. Human privilege assumes it will always be able to suckle unabated at Mother Earth’s teat. Human privilege is arrogant in its behavior towards other species and towards earth.
The realities that oil, gas, and coal are finite resources are unheeded. As long as there is technology to extract, humans continue to suckle. Fracking is known to contaminate water aquifers[viii] as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency but the practice is being expanded not curtailed or abandoned. There comes a point when in order to survive, the infant needs to wean itself off milk and feed on other nutrients. For humanity to continue to develop and survive, it needs to wean itself off completely of fossil fuels and turn its attention to harvesting solar and wind.
What amazes me is that the big oil companies are not transitioning to solar and wind themselves. It seems to be a natural evolution for their viability to do so. They can transition their work force towards cleaner energy. In my studying genealogy, I found one family of wheelwrights who transitioned from fixing horse drawn carriages to fixing automobiles. Evolve or become extinct.
But the real transition that needs to happen for humanity to survive on this planet and not be part of the coming mass extinction is to begin living as co-inhabitants and co-partners with life on this planet. This means relinquishing our privileged post and recognizing that we are but one of many species of animals on this planet. We were not created a little lower than the angels but rather we evolved alongside the rest of life. A humbling truth that is heretical to many.
It would require that we change our policies in business practice. Instead of asking how does this policy increase our shareholders profits, we need to ask, like our indigenous cultures, how does this policy affect the 7th generation to come? For many of our policies, the question becomes WHAT 7th generation as our actions makes our future existence questionable. But this question is not just for human’s 7th generation, which might be 150 years hence but also 7th generation for other species—which can span much fewer years.
Had we asked this question about the 7th generation of honey bees that pollenate our flowers we might not be pondering their extinction today or the extinction of Monarch Butterflies who within my life time went from billions to only a few million. But human privilege says this is okay because the shareholders of Monsanto’s are happy with their dividends. Monsanto’s operates under the theology of subdue and be master over life on earth. This is not a healthy world view.
We certainly did not consider the 7th generation of passenger pigeons who also numbered in the billions in the mid 1800’s and were extinct from hunting by 1914. The passenger pigeon were seen as an impediment to the expansion of the new telegraph wires—their sheer volume collapsed the wires and poles. Nor did we consider the 7th generation of the Western Black Rhino which officially became extinct in 2011 also a result of hunting. The other sub-species of Rhino’s are facing similar fates. The Northern White Rhino only has 7 non-breeding adults remaining.
It appears we have a limited time period in which to shift our mindset. Scientists are saying we have already passed the tipping point and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse[ix] is now inevitable. What other catastrophic events are now inevitable because of our refusal to act on scientific knowledge? What events are reversible if we humble ourselves off our platform of superiority and privilege and embrace our rightful place as partners with this planet’s inhabitants? Mother Earth has nurtured our species over the last 200,000 years, but it is up to us if our species will survive to see the next thousand let alone the next 200,000 years.
Usually, when I feel a deep connection with another it makes me loyal to them. I want to defend them, protect them; in other words love them with all my heart. 85% of Americans express a deep connection with Mother Earth—may we show that love with our actions.
“Suckled By Mother Earth” delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa by Rev. Fred L Hammond on 8 June 2014 (c)