Don’t Worship Mother Nature

Our old dog eats deer poop. The neighborhood cats stalk, torture, and kill our chipmunks. The spider whose web I see in front of my window stings the butterfly caught in his web, wraps it with silk, and later comes back to eat it alive. Your knee hurts. Your eyes begin to go. Cancer cells eat up the body of your closest friend. The earth shifts suddenly, and flattens part of a crowded island, and thousands and thousands die.

There’s nature for you. It is sometimes only disgusting, like the dietary habits of our aging mutt. It’s sometimes just annoying, like your aching knee and fuzzy vision. But it is also cold, brutal, merciless. Nature is entirely selfish and utterly amoral. It’s doesn’t care about anyone’s pain. It’s soaked in the blood of the innocent.

And yet some people say that we ought to abandon the religions we have, like Catholicism, and worship nature instead. The Church is corrupt, they say, and obsessed with sex, and full of rules, and run by old men, and medieval, antiquated, and completely out of step with the modern world. But nature, nature is cool. It’s natural, for heaven’s sake. It’s pure, real, innocent.

We hear this all the time. Writing on the website of a serious English magazine, someone calling himself (or herself) “Pagan Artist” wrote in a cheerful Mary Poppins kind of way: “What is wrong with worshipping God’s creation itself? The sun, the moon, the stars, the air, the trees, the rivers, the sea — we cannot live for a day without them.”

He then explained why this made him want to worship nature and reject the god of any established religion: “For me, that makes them divine because they give us the ultimate gift of life. Organized religions on the other hand have given us nothing but death and destruction. Nature gives us life. Organized religions give us death. Which one should we hold divine and worship with reverence?”

Let us set aside the claim that “organized religions” have given the world lots of bad things and no good things. It’s just silly. Walk around any major city and note the number of hospitals with names like “Mercy Hospital” and “Our Lady of . . .” and “Beth Israel.” The modern hospital come from the medical care dispensed freely by the monks of the Middle Ages.

Note how many missions go around the world to feed the poor, build them homes, and give them health care when they’re sick. Remember those missionaries who got ebola because they kept helping people at the risk of their lives? They’re not unusual.

Look at the modern pagan’s case at its best. It claims that we ought to reverence nature because it gives us life, as Pagan Artist said. You can easily think of all sorts of wonderful things to be found in Nature with a capital “N.” The Christian would say that the wonderful things we find are wonderful gifts given us by a loving God, but let that go for a second.

The first thing to be said about this modern nature worship is that it is very, very dim. Dumb, even. Sure, we find in nature pretty sunsets, and cute little bunnies and kittens, and warm sunny breezy spring days, and the awe-inspiring mechanics of life on earth and the equally awe-inspiring movement of the stars and galaxies.

But we also find physical decay, cancer, earthquakes. Those cute kittens grow up to eat the cute bunnies. The weather that produces the beautiful spring days will also produce killing cold snaps and hurricanes that destroy everything in their path. The mechanics of life on earth produce death as much as life, and indeed depend on death to maintain the balance. What is to you a horrible death from cancer is for Nature simply a way of adjusting the population.

I don’t know why anyone would want to worship this. The real pagans worshiped nature because it could kill them. They wanted to try to make Nature like them and spare them its worst. It was a bully they had to pretend to like.

That’s not worship as we understand it. It’s bribery, and desperate bribery at that. Some of the ancient pagan religions would do almost anything to bribe the nature gods, including sacrificing their own children. Think for a moment what fear men would have to feel to toss their own infant children into a furnace.

That is how frightened of nature were the people who knew it best. Not for them the cheery “Nature gives us life” and the chipper question, “What is wrong with worshipping God’s creation itself?”

That’s the talk of someone who lives far removed from nature, in a modern city in a modern house with modern heat and modern plumbing, with modern medicine and everything else that protects us from nature as she really is. If he really met mother nature, he wouldn’t like her. As my grandmother said about a bad man she knew, she’d crush just as soon as look at you.

David Mills

By

David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, is a senior editor of The Stream, editorial director for Ethika Politika, and columnist for Aleteia. His latest book is Discovering Mary. Follow him @DavidMillsWrtng.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Peggylou

    This is a brilliant, excellent retort. I have heard this too often and I had no answer. I just knew they were wrong. I am printing this out and keeping it with me so the next time someone says this to me, I will have the answer. Thank you, Mr. Mills.

  • SnowCherryBlossoms

    I giggled the whole way through this article, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Finally, someone with some good common sense! I love nature and thank God daily for it! He created such a beautiful world and living in the woods, I see a lot of this beauty- but then there’s that “other-side” after the fall, to contend with. lol.
    Does anyone else notice that the older you get the more you hate watching anything suffer and die? That is one part of nature that is so hard. Thanks, it was a fun read!

  • Mau

    A decent idea, but poor execution. Many pagans (very intelligent ones, too) could rip this to shreds. The Bible (particularly the Book of Wisdom) deals with this in a lovely way, and one could build upon that. Further, pagans are well aware of the darker aspects of nature and worship those aspects too- rather than seeing nature as a “bully”, they see it as a well rounded entity. If you can get across to them, in a real way, that God is the Master and Creator of nature, of the world, and a billion times more loving and altruistic despite being infinitely more powerful than what they are worshipping, you’d go a lot further.

  • infowolf1

    Because nature does it just to do it without even the consciousness necessary to be doing it to adjust population. no consciousness or purpose.

    what God has done was strictly in dealing with sin and it is possible that the worst things about nature came in some way as a result of the primal fall of mankind, taking eventually others with it to some extent.

    God promises a future that is a new heavens and a new earth and the final enemy to be conquered is death. Nature promises nothing but “balance.”

  • infowolf1

    cats are hard wired to pounce on moving objects, which is why you can play with them with a string. I doubt it wanted the mole to suffer, it just reacted to motion. Its reactions eventually drew blood, which drew the urge to eat. Meanwhile, if the mole had more speed and aggression the initial behavior of the cat would have given it leeway to escape, maybe.

  • infowolf1

    St. Francis’ song has always worried me a bit. Some of his visions and behavior such as publicly flogging himself for eating meat during Lent when very sick, a legitimate reason most priests would give permission for, seem a bit self exalting or attention grabbing.

  • Matt

    Appreciating nature brings me closer to God. It elicits feelings of awe and wonder. which are the proper attitudes with which to approach the true God. I realize nature is not all good, but even when witnessing nature’s fury, it still inspires that awe and wonder. Nature’s bad side also inspires respect and holy fear, which is another proper attitude for worshipping God. It also inspires humility — when I look out at the stars and see that I am just a speck of dust in a massive universe. And yet, despite my smallness, God loves me — he even sent His Son to suffer and die for me so that I can enjoy eternal life with Him in Heaven. In a word, it’s just awesome.

  • Howard

    Of course, in the ancient world this was a reason to worship nature. They knew that nature was strong and could never really be defeated, only pushed back a little; they knew that nature was temperamental, and might destroy them for no reason whatsoever. In short, nature was like Godzilla, who sometimes destroys Tokyo and sometimes saves the city; in fact, Godzilla is probably best understood as some sort of minor Shinto nature god. Appeasing irrational or even evil gods so that they would stay away was a major part of ancient religion.

    In the ancient world, gods were worshipped not for their goodness, but for their power. The ancient nature worshipper knew that nature is not always good, but also that it was inconceivably more powerful than he. Nature might destroy him without even noticing. The modern nature worshipper is more perplexing, believing that nature is the summit of goodness, but also so fragile that we might destroy it without even noticing.

  • Athanasius Pernath

    You seem to forget that nature is God’s creation. This kind of ignorant, supremacist attitude toward other sentient beings was one of the reasons I turned from Christianity to Buddhism.

  • Beetle

    Gee, Athanasius – you seem like a charitable old soul . . .

  • Not a bad article. It points out why Christians do not worship Nature. With that said, there is a difference between worshiping and appreciating. I can appreciate those fine sunsets and actually be awestruck by it, without worshiping them. Especially if I can see beyond and think whose idea was it to have such a glorious sunset? Then again, some of those Gaelic Saints of old, like St. Columba, would go out and wade into the sea to pray to God WITH all of creation. Here is an idea — why not work on this idea of “reconciling” nature to the creator? Why don’t we try to see what these neo-pagans see and learn something about the Creator of the All?

  • one comment

    “Nature” is God’s creation. It is His creative imagination come to fruition, Who God Is reflects from His handiwork. It is like an artist who paints and his paintings are a reflection of the artist himself, we are even able to identify a painter by his “style” of work. But an artist’s paintings are not esteemed, instead it is the artist who created the painting that is esteemed. The painting is enjoyed, pondered, even loved for its beauty or content, but no credit is given to the painting for itself, only the painter receives the credit. Now God’s creation in which He intended to be Perfect, without sin and death, has been corrupted and marred by imperfection, by sin which is the end of what God originally intended for us. And so we see all that you have mentioned in your article, we see the corruption of God’s Creation. And we suffer so much in a beautiful world that still mirrors God’s Beauty but also shows the stain of death and suffering.

    All creation suffers. But God sent Jesus to remedy what we ourselves can not do, in our fallen state we can not put to an end the stain and poverty of sin. But Jesus Christ in His poverty and humility broke the grip of sin with the sacrifice of Himself, He Who is Perfect and without blemish, but even more importantly, the resurrection of Himself; the rising of Perfection out of the hopelessness of the corrupt. Jesus Christ IS the resurrection! In His conquering the corruption of death by His resurrection He has brought us all out of the corrupt who are joined to Him, we are new creatures in Christ, we who will one day also received our incorruptible bodies, no longer subject to suffering, cancer, pain and death. This is what God has done for us.

    (speaking of Adam and Christ)
    Romans 5:18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Romans 8:18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

  • Martina

    Nature is just a creation like people , we are not Gods ,so nature is not God .
    We must worship Got himself, not His creations, it is against His first commandment.

  • Lee

    Why do Christians worship God rather than His creation? Simply. He told us to.

MENU