Saturday, May 29, 2010


"(W)e have to ask ourselves how these religions are expressed on the ground, in the real world - I mean both of these literally - how they play out in the lives of living breathing human beings and others. What have been the effects of Christianity on the health of landbases? Has biodiversity thrived on the arrival of the cross? How has the arrival of Christianity affected the status of women? How has it affected the indigenous peoples it has encountered? We can and should ask the same questions of Buddhism, science, capitalism, and every other aspect of our or any other culture. Not how they play out theoretically, not how their rhetoric plays out, not how we wish they would play out, not how they could play out under some imaginary ideal circumstances, but how they have played out.
- Derrick Jensen, Endgame, volume I

I just (just, like moments ago) finished reading this book, and it's got me disassembled. I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's like it finally confirmed (or at least one other person sees it) something I have suspected and felt all my life (the inherent destructiveness of our culture) and I feel a little less alone, and I feel way more alone.

Jensen's position is radically anti-civilization. It sounds a little nuts, but to me in the exact same way the kid saying the emperor has no clothes sounded nuts (or would have, at least, assuming everyone else was truly and fully deluded, rather than just lying). He also believes (as do I) that our civilization WILL crash (and soon) - there is no way out of that. In addition, the sooner it crashes the more things will be left alive to start over (including humans and things humans eat - in addition to relatively unpoisoned air and water) so actively working to take it down is a good thing. (Neither he nor I actually do this as yet)

So, there's this joy of validation - yes, it really is that bad, you're not hysterical, and you're not nuts. And then, well, it's really that bad, a horror beyond my capability to process it (brought to stunning relief by all that oil spilling into the gulf killing everything in sight while those in power sort of bumble around to see what they can do without doing anything radical, or changing anything too much, which is pretty much nothing, obviously.

But Jensen also goes after religion. Not all religion in terms of spirit or a sense of awe at the wonder of things, but big religion, our big religions (Christianity, but also Buddhism) - any religion that is not rooted in place.

This makes a lot of sense to me, at least at some level. I think what he's getting at is a lot of the trouble that I have with Christianity (and other religions) - they do not speak to (of/through) me about how to live me life as it is and as I experience it, they speak of a number of things that have nothing to do with me, and leave me cold.


(and this feels like a big and) he takes them to task for both letting us off the hook and for comforting us when we should not be comforted.

Some of the problem with our view of the environment is our cultural assumption that the point of it all lies elsewhere. Many of the worst offenders in US politics have been born-again christians who believe that the rapture is coming, and at best it doesn't matter because Jesus will come and take us away, and at worst it is a GOOD thing to destroy the planet, because it will somehow hasten (and facilitate?) Jesus' coming.

Joanna, in responding to my post about Christianity, said: "when I focus solely on what needs to be done and what I can do to meet it I am sometimes overwhelmed by my impotence, blindness, double-mindedness; and I need to be reminded that my hope for the world is based on God's goodness not my own. That doesn't mean that I can sit back and assume that God will fix everything"

which totally made sense to me. It IS overwhelming to think that we're all there is. And sometimes, it's not good to move forward with an ego grounded in that notion either :)

[and, I'd like to point out, Joanna lives a life, from what I can tell, about 300x closer to the life I think I "should" live than I do, so I do not mean to denigrate her choices or approach at ALL, but it doesn't work for me. At least not yet]

But, Jensen's point would be that all religions have been used to say that somehow it doesn't matter all that much. There is sometimes a sense that God will take care of it all, so we don't have to work so hard, OR even more, that it doesn't matter if God takes care of it. It doesn't matter, actually, if polar bears die because there is no ice for them to live on. It doesn't matter if tons of sea creatures die from toxins, fishing nets, or from having so much plastic crap in their bellies they starve to death because they can't fit in any actual food.

The point is to do our best, or to live up to our own light, or to be faithful.

And that is NOT the point for me. I want action, I want to make it better. I was drawn to quakerism because I thought we were IN the world, that we cared about things, really cared (not like cared about our own spiritual development in relation to slavery, actually cared about slavery, and stopping it)

I do think this attitude has a benefit in taking away our tendency to beat ourselves up about things. Evaluating how you did at the end of your life, when you can do no more, it is really "as good" to have done the best you could as to have won. But it does make a difference in the real world if you won, and the real world matters. (to me)

Maybe I"m not a Quaker?

1 comment:

dandelionlady said...

I was moved by Jensen as well. I'm not blowing up dams though. I have family and community that depend on me not being in jail. I've read and own 3 of his books and I particularly like the one where he tracks down and interviews people in the environmental movement. I absolutely believe that religion needs to be rooted in place. I also happen to be a practicing Pagan, in the Druidic tradition. Here in the USA our challenge is to find out how the stories and gods that were firmly rooted in place there, living in mountains, lakes, and the land, translate to living here in this land. It's quite the challenge, and it's exciting to be part of it.