Of Droughts and Flooding Rains

Monday, 9 February 2009

I feel a bit numb this evening. I began writing this post unsure that it was going to be anything more than a few sentences. What can you say about such things as natural disasters? I've gone about my business of the past two days, with crying spells interspersed in-between long bike rides and art therapy sessions. It's terribly sobering living in Australia when it's flooded at one end, and has just experienced it's worst fires ever at the other end, in my state, with 150 people burned to death and 800 houses burnt to the ground.

Here in Melbourne I am shielded from it all, really. I don't know anyone directly who has died or lost their house. I know people who know people, but that's it. I drove to Mount Dandenong today, and the only hint of anything different were some of the things Maggie had packed in preparation for evacuation, being in a fire-prone area and only 50km and an hours' drive away from the now-almost-extinct Kinglake. But by today, there wasn't even a hint of smoke in the air.

But still, you can feel the numbness in the air. It's heartening to see the rallying of support of people who feels so useless and want to help. There has already been 6 million bucks donated to the appeal, and one of the relief centres near Kinglake had to actually ask people to stop bringing certain things in because they were being overwhelmed with stuff. Which is a good problem to have. They were actually asking for specific items I last heard - items like children's underwear and dog leads. I saw footage of some of the pets who had made it on the television and I have to stop my mind from thinking of the animals who didn't.

I was listening to Radio National today. They were discussing the death of a philosopher attributed to founding the deep ecology movement. I don't know anything about him so I won't go into it here, but the narrator was discussing how deep ecologists tend to believe that anthropocentrism - the idea that humans are at the centre of creation - is to blame for the way the earth is being murdered. I can understand why people think that, certainly. They say that it breeds a certain sort of arrogance, a disconnection from the earth that sustains us. I wonder how different that idea would be if Empire Christianity hadn't been there to fuel it. As much as you can blame anything in particular - after all, if humans didn't have such a propensity in their hearts to take and rape and pillage what they believe to have very little value, then there wouldn't be a susceptibility to it, would there? So we can try to blame certain ideologies and beliefs for the state of the world with some certain and sure point, but really, ultimately, it's human nature that has got us here.

But still, I wonder how much extra fuel Empire Christianity threw on that particular fire. The state religion of the West, the rich, rich west. A God at the head of that beast who is a rather petulant creature, who is going to throw most of his creation into hell at the end of the story. A God that is very demanding, quite the tyrant really when you think about it, who you never can quite tell if he's pleased enough with you to have bestowed upon you your heaven pass. What kind of effect would that way of thinking have on your conceptions of yourself and the earth you live in and on, over and under? Someone mentioned to me on a blog the other day that it is an urban legend that one of Ronald Reagan's advisers gave some sort of speech back in the eighties where he basically said that if it was all gonna burn anyway, what was the point of trying to save the earth's resources? I don't know how true that is, but it is but a logical conclusion, to me.

It all comes down to your view of what God is, I suppose. Whatever view you have of God, it's backed up in the bible. That's the creepy magic about that book. It is such a great mirror of what we believe about God. I wonder what Christianity would have looked like if it had retained its eastern worldview instead of going western and dominatrix. Of course, those couple of verses at the beginning of Genesis fuelled that Western idea along too, didn't they? Rule over the earth, subdue it, have dominion over it? Pretty heady sort of language for hell-bound Westerners with a taste for domination, wouldn't you say? Of course, those words contain within them the conception of stewardship also. And taking a couple of verses out of their proper places is always fraught with danger. God was talking to sinless people in that scenario. Connected people. Connected intimately to her and to the earth. Further along in Genesis 2 the ideas are expanded upon more, about tending the garden and caring for it (what lies outside the garden? That's what I want to know. We imagine a paradise but I'm not so sure about that, especially if the earth became formless and void rather than was, but that's another story for another excessively long blog post).

To consider that those verses have anything to do with the granting of a licence to rape and pillage the earth is probably one of the more insane ideas that could ever pop into people's heads. It smacks of disconnection, to me. Sometimes I think that the more we surround ourselves with our own technology and our own stuff to reflect our own reality, the crazier we are becoming, and the more of a bastard we think God is. Funny, about that, huh.

But then, Empire religion threw out a whole massive ball of wool from which to take that thread and run with it. It has taught a beastly God that I wouldn't want to introduce to anybody because he is a dysfunctional tyrant.

Still, even if you do happen to think that God is a good god, it's still hard to resist having some negative thoughts about her when things like inferno bushfires occur. Even if we can't blame God for the fact that we have so completely stuffed up our environment all because we need stuff, you still can't help wondering in these times. Where is God when this sort of thing happens?

The narrator on Radio National was talking, as I drove through the subdued greenness of the Dandenong Ranges today, about the rather more eastern conception of the earth and God as one. As I listened and nodded in agreement to that idea, rushing back to me came all the rich white male voices of the books of my early Christian years, denouncing such views as heretical and pagan and unbiblical and hellfire bound. I understand the thinking and the fear. But pantheism - the belief that God is some cosmic impersonal force that IS nature itself is not the same as panentheism, that God is in all things. In the weft and the weave of all creation. In the majesty of an everyday human body. In the lumin in our molecules. I can feel him, I can see her personality within the world and what she has made. I don't mistake God for a tree. But I also don't think God is some impersonal force sitting way up there, outside of it all. The cross does not allow me ever to think that, even if I could have possibly thought it before.

Still, for all of that, my belief that God is in all of this, in the middle of all of these fires, in the midst of the people, separate from them only by their belief that he is separate, or that he is not there at all - it still doesn't dispel the questions of this loving God who would allow something like that? Is that not the question that is always asked most of all, the leads most to agnosticism and anger? Where is God in all of this?

And it remains a mystery. Like my faith also, remains a mystery. I understand its illogicality to some on the outside. I can't apologise for it, however. It is as real to me now as something I can see in front of me. I pray for God to be with all of those people who have lost everything even while thinking such a prayer is pointless. How can he not be with them? He is in them, whether they know it or not, whether they have burnt to death in their cars or not. And the mystery of the tension between those things is not ever going to be solved, I don't think. The tension of faith. The tears that flow from the tension. The horror at how hellish this life on earth can be. The understanding that the only way I can cope with the hell is because I believe that one day she is going to set it all right, and wipe every tear from every eye, make all things new. As childishly fairytale as that sounds, I believe that's how the story ends.

Image: smoke from the fires. Taken from the NASA satellite on Saturday
through their
Earth Observatory page

1 comment

  1. A heart-felt post, and I hardly know where to start in commenting.
    It's the old debate, isn't it? Is there any point in praying to a powerless God/dess, and yet if we invest ourselves in the idea that God has personal power, you have to ask the questions you ask here - how could she allow this (and that and everything else bad) to happen.
    But we don't ask "why" when something good happens.
    I don't think this is one that intellect can solve, I don't think we can know God.


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