Monday, December 21st, 2009
That’s the title of a column in the NY Times today, in which Ross Douthat examines the nature-culture divide in the context of religion. In an earlier post, we saw this divide manifested in the struggle for the soul of environmentalism.
Here, Douthat frames the human condition as a struggle between monotheistic religion and nature (or pantheism). An excerpt of his conclusion:
Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality.
….Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.
This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.
Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.
But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.
There’s a lot to argue about with this interpretation. For example— Are spirituality and the natural world mutually exclusive? Does morality need to be grounded in religion? What might it mean for nature to “take us back?”
Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:God2-Sistine_Chapel.png