“You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go,
and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain.” – John 15:16
Many in the Church appear to have forgotten that the world will end.
The recently concluded Synod on the Amazon measures the merit of spirituality by its beneficial effect upon the physical environment. The tribal cultures of the region that supposedly revere the Earth as their mother (Pachamama) are held up to us as models of responsible stewardship of the land. Likewise, Western culture (Christianity) is vilified as a destroyer of the land, and its representatives indicted as pillagers of Pachamama.
To what extent this portrayal reflects reality is arguable, to say the least. But the accuracy of such claims is beside the point in respect to the inversion of values it represents: the care of natural resources is either exalted above the care of the soul, or the two are made convertible, that is, virtue and environmentalism are one and the same.
That one should not waste anything has long been part of the Christian ethos. Many of us can recall as children being forced to finish what was on our plate. Waste was a sin. But eating the liver or spinach your mother served you was never a principal tenet of the Faith, but rather a practice deduced from the overarching principal that all was a gift from God. To lack gratitude was to lack grace and to show contempt for our Creator and His world.
But it was never the liver or spinach that was considered sacred in itself. We were not taught to revere food per se. Now, however, we have seen a shift in the moral calculus. The Synod does not exhort us to be grateful and to use well all that God has given us; rather, we are made the servants of the vegetable and animal creation. They are holy, and we are holy to the extent that we conserve them inviolate.
Primitive tribal cultures usually rest on some form of animism: they attribute supernatural power to natural forms, such as trees and rivers. Worship is then offered these forms in some manner and taboos grow up around them. Thus, ritual and moral codes take shape. If we look at human history as salvation history, then we can regard primitive cultures, not with contempt, but as remote approaches to the truth later revealed in Christ.
Every form comes from God, for without Him was made nothing that was made. So, every tree and rock and river has its origin in the Divine, as does every animal and every man. The beauty and majesty of creation is a reflection of the mind of God. Every seed organizes the elements in its particular way. And there is nothing in the seed itself that accounts for this miraculous transformation of earth, air, warmth and water into, say, a rose or a sunflower. The blossom on the stem is a shining forth of a Divine idea. And so is every man.
In worshiping a tree or a river, primitive people recognized that there is something Divine in nature, but they failed to recognize the transcendence of the Divine and instead located it in matter. The mission of Israel was to raise human consciousness to the transcendent nature of the Divine. God could not become man until man realized that God could never be circumscribed in the physical form of any being. Thus, the prohibition against graven images. Such a prohibition also extended to nature. God was understood as the author of Creation, but not contained by it.
Now, we appear to be witnessing a kind of regression, with those who hold offices in the Church exhorting us to regard animistic beliefs and tribal customs as somehow superior to the revelation of Christ, or even as the meaning of that revelation. Rather than recognizing the Earth as proceeding from God, this new (yet ancient) perspective sees God as inhering in the Earth, identical to it. We are seeing animism superseding faith in a transcendent God.
How can we explain this radical shift in religious outlook? The modern world is materialistic in all of its fundamental assumptions. It has no use for transcendence, for all that is other-worldly, i.e. non-material, is regarded as unreal, as superstition. If any principle is to have worth, it must lead to a better life here and now. And by a better life is to be understood more pleasant material circumstances: more goods, better health, a wider field of sensual satisfactions.
Environmentalism would seem to run counter to materialism. After all, it counsels against exploitation of resources for immediate gratification. There is in the exaltation of environmentalism a kind of spiritual longing. It is an attempt to fill the God-sized hole in our heart with something less than God, other than God. With something material, measurable, this-worldly. It is a sinking of God back into trees and rocks and rivers.
But there is also something about environmentalism that mimics the transcendent. Its Holy Grail is the Amazon, a place that few of its zealots have ever seen or know much about. It is the imaginary heaven filled with eco-saints in the form of primitive tribes who live in harmony with the world about them and with one another. And this never-never-land of the eco-saints is now supposed to become the model for the Church, with a new priesthood and new forms of worship that honor and incorporate the ancient animistic wisdom. It will be the new Church of Pachamama.
We should not underestimate the appeal of this new church, especially to the young who have been raised to believe that preserving the rain forests of South America is the key to preserving life on the planet. It is conceivable that Earth Day will become a new high holy day in the Church of Pachamama. And where is Pachadaddy?
The elevation of the Earth as supreme deity involves the elevation of the feminine over the masculine, for the Earth has always been conceived as feminine: Mother Earth, Gaia, Persephone, etc. The Earth receives the seed and brings forth fruit. But the fruit of the Earth is perishable, for it is material. It is only the fruit of the spirit that remains.
Our Lord told us that if we followed His commandment to love one another as He loved us, we would bear much fruit and our fruit would abide (menein in Greek). As everything in this world perishes, including the very world itself in time, the fruit Christ spoke of could not have been worldly or material. That which abides is spiritual. That which is worldly or material has significance only as it participates in the spiritual, and this includes all the corporal works of mercy. It is good to feed a hungry man, but it is better to feed the spiritually hungry man. For the body that is fed will eventually die and decompose; but the spirt is eternal. The fruits of the spirit will abide.
What we are witnessing now is an inversion of the Faith, one in which the spirit serves matter, inheres in matter and is effectively dissolved in matter. And matter has no intelligence of its own, no inherent virtue, no transcendent purpose. Nature, in itself, is “dumb as a rock.” What is now being proposed is a new rock religion: the church of Pachamama. Can anything be dumber?