Getting a nasty cold like the one that attacked our household last week can shake a person’s faith in humans being made in the image of God. Believe me, I just can’t imagine God coughing, hacking, sneezing and wheezing the way my husband and I have done in the past seven days. (Pause to sneeze).
In keeping with our Celtic Christianity theme, however, I’m forced to acknowledge that despite my aversion for it, even a noxious cold virus has a place in God’s creation. After all, we’ve already established that parts of the universe conflict with one another, and that discomfort and death are often the result. (Pause to cough up some ugly green mucus).
I confess that this idea of God’s image being reflected in creation really troubles me these days, and not just because I’m feeling punk from a cold. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr taught his students to approach their faith with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. In the past week, I’ve encountered three news items that have left me wondering if we humans have wrecked God’s creation beyond redemption, and I’m searching for a faithful response.
First, we heard reports that a National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration observatory in Hawaii had found that carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere had broken a critical level of 400 ppm (parts-per-million). This caused such a stir that NOAA went back over its readings and fine-tuned its scale. The CO2 level was revised down to 399.89 PPM.
This fractional revision shouldn’t be cause for rejoicing, however. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:
While scientists and environmentalists have used the daily milestone to highlight the buildup of greenhouse gases generated by human activities, it’s the rate of rise that is most important.
That rate, measured by the Keeling Curve, shows atmospheric CO2 levels are rising at unprecedented rates, driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels over the past two centuries. The curve, pioneered in 1958 by scientist Charles D. Keeling, is the longest-running tally of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and is maintained by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Readings there hit 399.46 Saturday [May11].
The weekly average reading at Mauna Loa was 399.52 last week, up nearly 22 points from a decade ago, according to the NOAA.
Climate scientists for some time have advocated getting the CO2 level down to 350 ppm or below to avoid “feedback loops” that will escalate the rate of global warming. That level is so critical that the leading climate advocacy group took its name from the number – 350.org, co-founded by professor, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben.
Second, one of my journalistic heroes, Bill Moyers, sent out an advance on his program, “Moyers & Company” that includes a clip from Bill’s 2001 documentary, Trade Secrets. In the earlier program, Moyers examined the many chemicals that have been introduced into our environment over the past half-century or so. Nearly every Baby Boomer can quote the slogan of Dow Chemical Co. heard through their childhood in the 1950s and 1960s: “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
To find out how pervasive these chemicals have become in our environment (and remember, Trade Secrets aired in 2001), Moyers volunteered to get his blood tested at the Mt. Sinai Medical School, which was researching levels of toxins in humans. The blood analysis found that of the 150 toxic chemicals being researched, Moyers had 84 of them in his system. With the exception of lead, a human contaminant for millennia, all of the toxins were chemicals that have been invented since the 1950s.
Third, one of my journalism colleagues, Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, emailed me his latest article titled, “The Collapse of Journalism and the Journalism of Collapse.” Also an environmentalist, Bob pulls no punches: “We cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.”
As he outlines how the collapse of journalism has robbed our society of on-the-ground reporters who can track the collapse of the environment as well, he asserts:
Life as we know it is almost over. That is, the high-energy/high-technology life that we in the affluent societies live is a dead-end. There is a growing realization that we have disrupted planetary forces in ways we cannot control and do not fully understand. We cannot predict the specific times and places where dramatic breakdowns will occur, but we can know that the living system on which we depend is breaking down.
Maybe it’s just crankiness from having a cold, but taken together these items make me angry. Really, really angry. Shaking-my-fist-at-God angry (except God isn’t the cause of the aforementioned items). I feel like that old reprobate gold miner Ben Rumson from the musical “Paint Your Wagon:” “You look around at humanity and you gotta wonder what the hell God was thinking!”
If our study of Celtic Christianity teaches us anything about caring for Earth, it’s that we have despoiled God’s planet to the point that we may not be able to recover. We’re already past the danger point on global warming given the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. We’re poisoning ourselves and the environment with chemicals about which we know little. And our social and economic systems of over-consumption have set us up for the arrival of those dreaded Four Horsemen of the apocalypse: War, Famine, Disease and Death. The United States has been at war for 10 years now, with drastic ecological consequences. Famine is increasing everywhere. We slow the spread of some diseases, but the scourge of poverty thwarts us at every turn. The end result of all this is death; not merely physical death, but the rise of the death-dealing practices that Jesus said show we love neither God nor our neighbors.
Can we find, revere and restore the image of God in creation – and ourselves – before it is too late?
Cynthia B. Astle is a certified spiritual director and longtime religion journalist who is a follower and proponent of Celtic Christianity. She blogs at Watermarked.