Belief in the source of life will sustain us.
After Sept 11, 2001, I listened to some Muslim students from Indonesia talking about why Islam would beat the American-led Empire. “They don’t believe in anything,” one said. “They just want more for themselves; they don’t answer to any higher power. We follow Allah. He will help us stay strong, and they will eventually give up and leave us alone.”
So far, the student’s prediction has not come true, except in Afghanistan. But he had a point about needing to believe in something larger than ourselves, more important than material wealth. Belief strengthens us, makes us willing to sacrifice. It helps us see ourselves as a collective force for a common good, not as isolated individuals going our separate ways in a meaningless world.
I don’t share Muslims’ belief in the invisible sky god Allah, who Judeo-Christians call Jehovah. I do believe in a higher power, because I can see it all around me and feel it within me. We call it Nature, and It (whatever It is) is the force that gave us life. All our energy comes from the sun; all the water, food, and other necessities of life come from Earth. These gift-givers are the ones I give thanks to every day, the ones I live for and would gladly die for.
I’m not saying Earth or Sun are Gods like Allah or Jehovah, conscious beings with personalities who demand obedience. Nature is like the Hindu Brahman, the fabric of being, everything there is. Sun and Earth are Nature’s manifestations.
Indigenous peoples have worshiped Nature as Creator or the Great Spirit or by other names, but it’s all the same thing. A mouse or a mustard seed are all part of God. So are we. Uniting in their (our) defense is the movement we need. That’s why my Substack is called Make Earth Sacred Again.
Seeing Earth as sacred
For tens of thousands of years, people saw Earth as sacred. Nature was something to be feared, to be thanked, to love, to serve, to behold with awe. If modern humans got back to a sacred Earth, we wouldn’t be commuting in two-hour traffic jams to stupid jobs; armies wouldn’t be killing each other over access to oil or gold. We wouldn’t be poisoning ourselves and all living things with chemicals to kill “pests” or make our clothes clean and bright. We’d have less stuff, but we’d be happier and healthier.
If we saw ourselves as part of Nature, we could step out of what Charles Eisenstein calls The Story of Separation, the belief that we are all disconnected individuals in a dangerous, meaningless world. In a belief system like that, it makes sense to seek safety by accumulating wealth and power and to believe that only we and our immediate families count. This disconnection explains the high rates of mental illness we see even in rich societies.
Focusing on individual material wealth is not only unhealthy; it is completely unsustainable, because unlimited desires must be met by a large but limited Earth. Economist Herman Daly said, “It cannot be wise to treat Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” Liquidating the forests, wetlands, and soils brings wealth, but is killing all of us. A recent study from the UK found wildlife populations are down 69% worldwide and by as much as 94% in some areas just in the last 50 years.
Do we mourn their loss? Would we treat our Mothers or our Gods that way?
I should note that capitalists do profess other values besides wealth. When they want support for a war, they talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ But these concepts are myths, nice-sounding ideas that barely exist in real life. Even where they do, they don’t make people happy or create sustainable societies.
Treating Earth as sacred is not a lifestyle choice. Well, it is a lifestyle choice, but it’s much more than that. Because the people who run most human societies are completely divorced from physical reality, living in mansions, working in offices, and valuing things only by the money they can bring, the rest of us need to come together to defend ourselves and all our relations. All the living things with whom we share our world are counting on us to save them. How do we do that?
Living for a sacred Earth
The current environmental and political crises may seem hopeless. But are they really hopeless, or is it just that we don’t know what to do? Eisenstein says that when healing comes, it will seem like a miracle, because healing seems impossible inside the Story of Separation. But some people have other stories and have been telling us about them for 500 years.
● Indigenous people and their allies around the world are defending forests and waterways with their bodies and in court. We can join with them, follow their leadership, or support them in various ways. We can learn indigenous ways of being in the world that make Earth our top priority. We can learn these practices from books and workshops, not to appropriate them, but to find places to connect with and support them.
● Self-defense — If we love our Earth, our relations and ourselves, we may need to physically fight for them. Talking to people and modeling better ways usually works better than combat, but some people won’t listen if they find it easier to run over us. I think war should be avoided at all costs, but protecting Earth might require violence — like when miners come for your riverbed, lumber companies for your forest, or capitalists deny your humanity.
● Realize you are part of something far bigger and more important than your ego-self. Remember that other people and other creatures are your cousins.
● Learn about and appreciate the world –Slow down, observe, interact with other living things. Take time with eating and touching. Meditate and become more aware of your body, feel the power of Nature inside of you. Give thanks for all of it.
● Pay attention to Science (real science, not government bureaucrats’ version of it.) Science helps us see the beauty and power of Earth and Nature. It can help us live in harmony with them. Scientifically informed restoration is happening all over the world.
● Join with others — For rituals, actions, ideas, and mutual support. Speak out, connect with family, faith, community. It’s not hard to find people on-line; it’s a little harder but much better in person.
I believe that if we follow Nature, we could overcome many of the divisions currently plaguing the world: the political, racial, ethnic, economic and cultural schisms promoted by our rulers. It’s not capitalism vs. socialism, although a sacred-Earth society would probably look more like the latter than the former. It’s not science vs. religion; it’s an understanding that unites them in service to creation. We are all children of Nature.
The false religion of money and goods doesn’t serve anyone, even those who think it serves them. We need to stop idolizing money and return to our Creators. Canadian First Nations teacher Blair Stonechild says his people’s way is to live with humility and gratitude, a sense of connection with all living things. Civilization’s way is to dominate other beings, including other humans, and this way has caused centuries of suffering and is now bringing catastrophe.
I’ll be writing more about this for the rest of my life. I invite you to do the same if you write, and serve Nature in other ways as you move through the world, remembering who you really are.
Books — The Knowledge Seeker and Loss of Indigenous Eden – Blair Stonechild
Braiding Sweetgrass– Robin Wall Kimmerer PhD
Honor the Earth — indigenous-led sustainability activists led by great Indian leader Winona LaDuke https://honorearth.org/mission-vision
Facebook groups (in English) — Indigenous Resistance, Indigenous Communism
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