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.