God’s Work Is Being Desecrated

Christ preached against worldli­ness, in the sense that a life fo­cused on external riches, power and status atrophies in its deeper essences. If we are thinking too much about the next possession or promotion, then we miss oppor­tunities to grow in our spiritual endowments: love, compassion and intelligence.

But somehow, over the centu­ries, this “worldliness” Christ preached against got confused with the world in general—na­ture, the earth, the sky, the physi­cal creation. Since worldliness was bad, the world must be bad too. We got to thinking that we could abuse the environment with­out offending God, who lived in a spiritual form and was indifferent to nature, even though in Genesis the Creator pronounced the crea­tion good seven times.

So we don’t think of polluting a river or denuding a forest as a sin; we don’t think of overpopulating the planet until millions and mil­lions are forced to live like rats as a sin. And on and on, until our top scientists (Carl Sagan, for exam­ple) say we must radically change our ways now, or we will soon hit a point where the damage will be too extensive to heal.

These science-prophets warn about what they call the latency effect. For example, the contami­nants that have opened the big hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole were released from the earth years ago. If release of such pollutants were halted to­morrow, it would have no effect on the rate of ozone deterioration for over a decade. Similarly, the next doubling of population, pro­jected within two decades, is al­ready inevitable for lack of con­trols in place right now.

The American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, described the problem quite clearly a century and a half ago in his first book, Nature. Nature serves man on many levels, Emerson says, the lowest of which is commodity (trees as lumber, rivers as trans­portation, land as real estate, etc.). Emerson does not condemn this attitude toward nature, unless it takes over the human mind al­together and diminishes nature’s more profound values: as the source of beauty, inspiration and revelation.

For those of us on this planet, like Emerson, who see the Crea­tion as sacred, how it hurts to see the earth desecrated for its lowest uses (a process almost synony­mous with “progress” and thus practically uncriticizable). For jobs, for lumber, for coffee tables and second homes, the first­growth forests will all come down in time, and that much more of God will have disappeared from the face of the earth. We strip, we deface, we denude, we pollute as if there is no tomorrow.

Through a variety of chronic abuses, we have aged the earth millions of years in one short cen­tury, and yet collectively, politi­cally, we show almost no concern. Perot, in many ways the most vi­sionary of our recent presidential candidates, dismissed environ­mental concern with an offhand retort: “How are we going to pay for environmental programs?”

I ask, how are we not going to pay for them? Ten miles up the road from where I live, the cele­brated chicken industry is over­whelming the once quaint small town of Moorefield. In spite of all the industry’s promises to be a clean operation, the air quality has drastically deteriorated with this recent radical expansion. Worse, the South Branch of the Potomac is fast on its way to being virtually despoiled of its once-cherished recreational and spiritual values.

The vicious cycle has taken hold. Population is expanding for the available jobs, and now there is a strong push to bring the new superhighway, Corridor H, through Moorefield, to further fa­cilitate the chicken industry and all its spinoffs. Soon local resi­dents will have that same choked ­up feeling which sensitive and mo­bile city dwellers are desperate to get away from, knowing instinc­tively that a life removed from nature loses its flavor, i.e. its sense of the sacred.

I read a recent poll that said 75 percent of West Virginians think that Christ will come again within the next 1,000 years, and mean­while we barely notice, all around us, that we have ceased to respect our natural resources, the crea­tion that God pronounced good. Rather we are rapaciously using Nature up, fouling it beyond heal­ing, all for a little extra money in our pockets, while, by world standards, even the medium poor of us live like aristocrats.

It’s a sad fact that 150 years af­ter Emerson’s book, nature as commodity is the only voice that influences the future. While we wait for Christ to come again, we desecrate God’s work all around us with barely a pang of consci­ence.

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