“In mainstream religious traditions, a creator may be ostensibly worshipped while the creation itself is dishonored; our Western political system and economy are rife with people who claim, for example, allegiance with Judeo-Christian religions yet do not flinch at profiting from the destruction of Earth’s life support systems. Reverence is reserved for a disembodied god, or for an afterlife, while the physical universe – the creation itself – is largely regarded as inanimate, dead, a warehouse of senseless objects for exploitation and consumption.”
Environmentalist and scholar Geneen Marie Haugen challenges our religious, political, and economic systems to recognize the sacredness of nature, the God-infused character of creation, the holiness of the universe, and of the tiny planet that sustains our existence. As we find ourselves in the midst of a climate crisis that threatens the health not only of the earth, but of us, its inhabitants, Haugen’s is an important and timely message. Her perspective on this crisis invites us to look closely at our understanding of God and what it means to be religious.
As she points out, many of us have been raised to believe that God is a being apart from creation, and to relegate “Him” to the heavens. What sometimes follows from this view is the tendency to undervalue life in the here and now, and to focus on the afterlife – the reward or punishment that may await us when we die. When we fall prey to this way of thinking, religion becomes a matter of pleasing and appeasing a distant God, rather than being in relationship with the presence of the divine hidden in plain sight, cloaked in the ordinary and often mundane reality of our everyday life. Author and farmer Wendell Berry views the notion of a distant God as disastrous: “Perhaps the greatest disaster of human history is one that happened to or within religion: that is the conceptual division between the holy and the world, the excerpting of the Creator from creation.”
Our failure to sense the spiritual depth of creation and of our daily lives can result in a loss of meaning, a “why bother” attitude that may border on depression. What can counter these feelings and lead to both self-care and care of the earth, is the realization that the word ‘God’ does not necessarily refer to a Supreme Being, but to that dimension of reality theologian Paul Tillich referred to as the “ground of being,” the hallowed essence at the heart of life. This understanding of God makes being religious not merely a matter of believing/worshiping, but of rolling up our sleeves and doing our part to turn here into heaven.