The Secular Grail

The Secular Grail

Whenever I read stories like the one about "Spring Spheres" that I mentioned yesterday, or the Cult of the Pre-Patriarchal Goddess, or today's Dailer Caller article about environmentalists urging Christians and non-Christians alike to take advantage of this Sunday to celebrate "Earth Day," I reflect on how difficult it is for even for steadfastly modern, "rational," and secular human beings to be resolutely materialist. It seems that if you cut most people off from their society's traditional religion for even a short while, they revert to some kind of deism or paganism.

Don't get me wrong. A reverence for the natural world is among my strongest passions, felt so strongly that it can easily overwhelm my concern for other people, if left to itself. In general I haven't the least problem with Earth Day or even some of the more radical varieties of environmentalism. But I don't think the Easter Sunday pulpit ought to be given over to a homily on global warming. For one thing, of course, I'm unconvinced that global warming, even assuming we've identified a trend that's more than noise in the signal when viewed over millennia, is anthropogenic at all. The pulpit is no place to be expounding a contested scientific theory that will arouse divisive political passions.

What's more important, though, is that -- even if we had the perfect solution to an incontestable AGW theory in our hands -- Easter is a peculiarly inappropriate time to be indulging in fantasies about remaking the Earth into a perpetual Paradise. We can resolve not to do anything unnecessary to foul the Earth, but it is not at any time going to be converted into a place where we will find what we seek in Heaven. Earth is a place where we can find a great deal of natural pleasure, where we can meet our physical needs, and where we can do our duty. It is not a place where our souls can find their destiny. It's a creature, like us, and not something to be worshipped in its own right.

Easter is a time to reflect on what's going on besides the natural Earth around us. It's a time to grapple with Death and what might overcome it (which, in the natural world, is absolutely nothing). If those reflections send us back into our daily lives determined not to behave like self-obsessed littering ignoramuses with the beautiful natural bounty that has been bestowed on us, that's great. But that's a sideshow, not the main event. The source for virtues that will help us live better on the Earth is not in the Earth.

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