Showing posts with label Mother Nature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mother Nature. Show all posts

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Find Your Place

                      (viewing both videos - in full screen - is highly recommended)

"Finding yourself out here on the very edge of the continent; waking up to the first sunrise in North America - it's hard to believe that most people still wake up to an alarm clock."

There really are places like this in the world. They are rugged shorelines whose rocky cliffs are pounded by thundering Atlantic waves. They are wide green plains whose graceful grasses softly brush the horizon or breathtaking mountains where the cold, clean air thrills as it chills your face, your throat and your lungs. They are noisy, busy, vibrant cities whose colorful, energetic populations pulse with creativity and life. They are every place that speaks to the heart and soul of the people who live there.

You don't have to go to any one place to find the serenity and the sense of awe that this video depicts. It is the relationship between a person and a place that endows one spot on the planet with that magical source of water for the mind, body and spirit for that person. Some people are born into a place which nurtures their inner life from cradle to grave. Others choose theirs as adults; sometimes instantly with a shock of recognition - this is my place! - but more often it happens gradually. Sometimes we just grow into the place - perhaps having arrived by chance and always expecting to move on again - until one day there is a whispered realization of contentment - I belong here.

There really are places like this in the world. 
Go out and find yours!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mother Nature Wept

Thousands of dead jellyfish wash up on South Carolina beach, 26 March 2012

On a stroll along a local beach yesterday, my son took the photo above. Thousands of dead jellyfish had washed ashore and were scattered in a broad swath along (at least) eleven miles of South Carolina coast. Not visible in the photo are the thousands of sand dollars which had met a similar fate. Since we had never seen anything like this in the fifteen years that we have been visiting this coast, I expressed my dismayed concern and wondered out loud what could have caused such a massive die off.

My intelligent and intellectually curious son explained to me that many marine animals are very sensitive to what may seem like slight variations in sea temperature or other features of their ocean habitat. The mass deaths of a significant population of two species at the same time probably points to an unusual shift in temperature or some other environmental factor which can probably be measured - as long as there are scientists presently employed to record and study such events.

As my son and I discussed the possible causes of this die off of marine life forms, I was reminded once more of the strangely misogynistic, yet laughably stupid anthropomorphism of natural events that seems to be so much a part of theism.  The kernel of a disturbing idea began to sprout in my mind as I realized that the tendency of the religious to blame "Mother Nature" for natural disasters serves an even darker purpose than I first realized.

My son appreciates and understands that scientific research is important to our understanding of ecosystems on our planet. He makes a point to learn about the world around him. Fundamentalist religionists believe that everything they need to know about the world can be found in their holy books. They make a point not to learn about the world around them if it might in any way contradict their holy books.  More chillingly, they attempt to suppress any knowledge that cannot be found in their holy books. Knowledge which they fear might undermine the "truth" they believe is contained within those pages - thus reducing the power wielded by those who claim to be able to interpret "god's word" - must be resisted.

The obvious example of this deliberate ignorance is the denial of the fact of evolutionary biology by religious fundamentalists. For well over a century, devout Christians in the developed world have not only refused to accept the truth of evolutionary theory, but have actively worked to ban the teaching of evolutionary science in public schools.  Less obvious to me was the connection between fundamentalist religiosity and climate change denial. Yesterday, a flashbulb went off in my mind.

The increased frequency of storms and other unpleasant natural phenomena is caused by global climate change. Global climate change, in turn, is an effect caused by many factors including the impact of human behavior on the planet. There is virtually no controversy within the scientific community on this point. The vast majority of the world's scientists have concluded that it is human behavior which has rapidly increased the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greatly speeding up what should be a 10-20,000 years long natural warming cycle of the planet. The evidence is undeniable. Yet, people deny it.

The stupidity - the apparent insanity - of climate change denial can be somewhat understood in the context of the overarching irrationality of theism.  Some of the most committed climate change denial comes from theists. More specifically, climate change denial is asserted by pseudo-scientific groups created by theists to generate sciency-sounding "explanations" for natural events that can be squeezed into the tiny, primitive scope of their religious texts. These groups, with legitimate-sounding names like The Discovery Institute are financed by an unholy alliance of churches and corporations which benefit from climate change denial through lax environmental protections.

Some corporations - notably energy corporations - have long been fighting a dirty war of obfuscation and outright lies against the global consensus of experts that the human impact on climate change is real. Energy corporations have spent millions over the decades lobbying against environmental protection legislation and enlisting the help of scientists-for-hire to argue against the mounting scientific evidence that global warming is an urgent concern and it is greatly hastened by the consumption of fossil fuels.

Your friendly "environmental
think tank" sponsor
The "global climate change" issue really warmed up in the 1980's just as the religious right was beginning to enjoy the fruits of its own campaign of lies and fear-mongering to change public opinion on various social issues. It seems that corporate and religious leaders realized in those early days of the current war on liberalism that if they joined forces on the climate change issue, there could be benefits for them both. The energy corporations needed the religious groups to lend moral legitimacy to their greed. The religious groups wanted access to the political power that wealthy corporations have long enjoyed.

Another factor in the fundamentalist Christian role in climate change denial is that the fact that human activity can change the natural cycle of our planet flies in the face of Bible-based creationism. Just like the theory of evolution, the theory of global climate change threatens theists' core belief system. So, just like evolution, acceptance of climate change must be not only denied, but as widely suppressed as possible.

Exactly as with the theory of evolution, the suppression methods of choice were the introduction of false evidence to plant doubt, the hiring of unscrupulous "scientists" to refute both the evidence and the consensus of the worldwide scientific community, and the use of growing political power to prevent accurate teaching about global climate change in public schools while fighting to cut funding to scientific research on the subject. In churches and Bible-studies, Christians were primed with sciency-sounding "research", backed up with scripture, to entrench doubts about global warming in particular and the scientific community in general.

How should a Christian view global warming?

A god of constant sorrows
Elected officials usually will not risk revealing their religious biases by publicly attributing tornados or hurricanes to a god's wrath, unlike some religious celebrities, but they communicate the supernatural message anyway by mentioning "Mother Nature", instead.  Subversively deifying a storm is a fiendishly clever way of spreading the meme that climate research is pointless: nothing for science to see here! A god did it! Disguising the mythical male deity in a malevolent, amoral female persona, thus reinforcing the institutionalized and systemic misogyny of religion in the same stroke, is just an added bonus.

Contrary to the bizarrely slanderous opinion of Mitch Daniels and company, however, Mother Nature is not an unpredictable pseudo-deity who "chooses" to lash at the earth (and its hapless inhabitants) whenever her cruelly capricious whims move her to do so. That would be another, more popular, imaginary deity. Gov. Daniels obviously had Mother Nature confused with his own viciously violent imaginary friend.

"Mother" Nature does not exist.  Only "Nature" is a real thing in this world, and it is neither cruel nor capricious. Nature has no intentionality because it is not a being, not a deity, not a self-conscious, supernatural force. No matter how powerfully humankind may wish there to be gods (even a "natural" god like "Mother Nature"), nor how fervently theists may claim we must be "hardwired" to look for evidence of consciousness in the random events in the universe, there is nothing of the sort. Nor, in my opinion, should we waste precious energy wishing for such a thing to exist.

Nature simply is.  It is the wondrous and amazing interactions of natural phenomena which make up this vast universe.  Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; droughts and floods: blizzards, hurricanes and tornados - these are all scientifically explainable events. They are the natural effects of natural causes. And that is far more interesting and amazing than any manmade gods.

Some interesting reading:

The truth about denial, Sharon Begley, Newsweek (13 August 2007)

Evangelical Christians deeply divided..., Heather Goldstone, (31 May 2011)

Explosion in jellyfish numbers may lead to ecological disaster, The Guardian, (11 June 2011)

Why conservative white males..., Julia Pyper, (5 October 2011)

Greenland icebergs breaking off..., Charles Q. Choi, (11 December 2011)

Marine ecology: Attack of the blobs,  Mark Schrope,, (1 February 2012)

Climate Change: A planet in flux,  John P. Smol, (29 February 2012)

Ocean Science: The power of plankton,  Paul Falkowski, (29 February 2012)

And algae shall inherit the earth, Chris Hillier, Trade Secrets (blog), via (20 March 2012)

Damn you,  Mother Nature!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mother Nature, Not God, "Chose" To Slam the Midwest

Henryville, IN  March 3, 2012

The latest natural disaster has brought to the fore something that I've always noticed but have rarely written about.  It is always difficult to talk about the insidious poison of god-belief and the harm it does to humanity, but it is doubly hard when there has been a disaster.  People don't want to hear about it and they often react very negatively to any attempt to talk about it. They feel that the atheist who decries the talk of gods during a crisis is capitalizing on the emergency to "proselytize" for atheism.

Yet, capitalizing on the crisis to proselytize god-belief is exactly what is already happening, and what happens every single time there is a natural disaster or human crisis of any sort. Theists use disasters to underline the privileged position of theism in society by inserting prayers and petitions to "God" into public activities around the crisis but, even more perniciously, they use disasters to further entrench irrational belief in the minds of a traumatized and psychologically vulnerable populace.

"It's a blessing. We praise God (that no one was hurt)"

"Thank God (few students were at school when the tornado hit), or they all would have been gone."

What is more, this pushing of god-belief is nearly always coupled with phrasing which disrespects real heroism and human effort, thus displacing the gratitude which rightly belongs to human beings who have actually taken action - who have actually provided real help - and allowing it to dissipate pointlessly into the "thank god" ether.  Worst of all, theists rarely miss the opportunity to reinforce religious misogyny and bigotry in the vulnerable psyches of people who are grappling with a terrible situation.

I found remarks by Mitch Daniels - Governor of Indiana and fervently conservative Christian - both offensive and revealing,  especially juxtaposed so closely with those of theists thanking "God" for the good luck of not being the ones killed in the disaster.   Referring to the devastating storms of March 2, 2012,  the governor repeatedly blamed them on "Mother Nature" throughout the day.  Here and here are some news articles where the governor is quoted doing this on several different occasions.  The remark most packed with WTF?,  in my view,  was this:
Ferocious Mother Nature
"I am constantly amazed by both the unpredictability and the ferocity that Mother Nature can unleash, when she chooses to,"  Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana. 

Those damned females!  Even female gods can't be trusted not to make "choices" which cause death and destruction!  And don't get him started on how unpredictable and ferocious that female anger can be. 

There is so much to talk about here that I hardly know where to begin.  This quote is a tiny illustration of a topic that is so huge that there is no way it can be covered in one post.  I expect that quotes like this, which crop up with depressing frequency in our god-soaked culture,  will be an ongoing source of grim inspiration for countless posts on religious misogyny,  privileging of theism,  irrational thinking, displacement of natural human feelings and ideas, anti-choice ideology, bigotry, homophobia, racism... well, you get the idea.

For starters, let me try to zero in on the problems with the quote above, as briefly as possible.

(One of?) The Loving Creator (s)
Christians claim to believe in only one god.  Well, actually three gods.  But they claim that those three do not count as three gods, by virtue of a clever fourth century patch called the doctrine of the Trinity established at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.  Somewhere along the line, religionists decided that monotheism was a superior form of religion to polytheism.  All those saints and extra special Biblical figures (Ba'al, Moses, Mary, etc) who perform magical god-like miracles, though suspiciously like demi-gods in a polytheistic pantheon, are not formally recognized as gods by believers. 

So, the general claim of Christianity is that it is a monotheistic religion.  Except of course, there is Satan who is alleged to have nearly as much god-like power to do evil as God himself has to do "good". There is a lot of overlap there, too, because Satan is often credited with doing things that seem good to trick believers, while God is often cited as the power behind many terrible events (but always for loving reasons, of course).  It is pretty confusing in the theist world.
Mother Nature the un-goddess

But if there are no other gods but the Triune God why, then, do theists like Governor Daniels say foolish things like "once again Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana" ?  Apparently,  when random natural phenomena occur -  as long as the theist majority decides not to ascribe the events to judgement by an angry god - there is unspoken agreement that those events can comfortably be attributed to other supernatural forces.  Forces that are not gods, you understand, but other anthropomorphous, supernatural beings.

With god-like powers.


There is clearly a problem of unacknowledged polytheism here,  not to mention the privileging of the majority religion's god over less favored gods.  "God" is praised and credited with saving lives in the midst of destruction, while "Mother Nature" is roundly blamed for causing the destruction.

The other problems are more difficult to untangle from the mess of misogyny,  anti-choice ideology and polytheism that is all bundled up in these remarks by the Indiana governor.  Some people will say that it is too much of a stretch to hear misogyny and anti-choice ideology in a remark about a devastating natural disaster, but I don't think it is.  I think that reinforcing negative feelings and othering actually is the point of making remarks like that at a time like this. 

I do not think it is mere coincidence that the supernatural force to which disasters like this are most commonly attributed is female.  I do not think it is an accident that Mother Nature is characterized as both "unpredictable" and "ferocious".  I do not think it was merely an odd choice of words to say that Mother Nature can unleash death and destruction "when she chooses to".

I think that quote contains more misogynist baggage than I have seen packed into so few words in a very long time.  Much of it is probably unconscious.  The fear of female anger,  the casual attribution of unpredictable rages to a female source and the words which are so commonly used to derogatorily describe women are often so deeply and unconsciously infused in our society's language and cultural narratives that to point them out is often dismissed as oversensitivity.

But the suggestion that Friday's disaster was not a random occurrence in nature but the choice of a ferocious and unpredictable female supernatural power is a signal that the unconscious beliefs behind a remark like this are something deeper and more dangerous.

This is something that needs to be discussed. 

I want to send my sympathy and best wishes out to the people in Indiana, Kentucky,  Ohio,  Tennessee and Alabama who are dealing with the aftermath of yesterday's tornado outbreak in the USA.  Yesterday was a terrible day for anyone unlucky enough to have been in the path of the destructive storm system which swept across the continent.   Like so many other Americans,  I kept an eye on the news and worried about family and friends in the path of the storms.  I understand that rescue operations began immediately and clean up crews are already on the ground in the hardest hit areas.  I am thankful for all of the people in those communities - rescue workers,  emergency medical personnel and many other professionals and volunteers - who have rushed to help their fellow humans during this emergency. The Red Cross has launched a huge tornado disaster relief effort.  Here is a link to their site where people can make donations toward providing real help for people affected by the disaster.