Rage Against the Human Machine

Photo credits: Pixabay

This guest post is written by my friend and colleague, the Rev. Jerry Cappel.

I suspect most of us have spent a good bit of mental energy over the past year railing against the machine. The political machine that is. “Why doesn’t he/she get it? How can they possibly think that?” And so on. Upon what we rail against we place moral labels: sin, foolishness, greed, fear, willful ignorance, baseness, bigotry, brokenness, selfishness. We rail against it because in us there is a sense that “this should not be so.” We want to think such foolishness is not normal or germane to us as individuals or society. Only in these past few years have my eyes opened to the persistence of bigotry and prejudice. I now see that it is always just under the surface. It is never more than one generation away. We will never outgrow this. The Age of Aquarius is not going to dawn.

This blog champions the connections between Christian faith and the natural world. This kind of faith practice recognizes “nature” as an avenue of connection to God. Often (and for good reason), we speak of “getting out in nature” as a method for centering, restoration, healing and clarity. We do this because we find in natural places an evident holy balance that is suppressed elsewhere in our lives. There is a fullness in such places that has been stripped away elsewhere. It is a way to escape our human complexities for a season and just think.

Are Humans Natural?

All true enough. But there are limits to this way of seeing the relationship between us and “nature.” There is a false dichotomy in it. Nature is not really something you can “get out to” at all, since it is actually all there is. We humans are always “in nature” because we too are nature. The human built environment is what the human animal does. Politics is what the human animal does. So is war, pollution, fear and love.

h-tree-1492543_640There is a pervasive Christian worldview that sees homo sapiens as something unnaturally exceptional. We are not natural like other creatures – we are special. The human condition with its sins and works of the flesh is not germane to our real selves or the planet. So, we call it evil, broken and therefore “unnatural.” We practice guilt and shame as a means to manage it all. We declare there is something wrong with us and therefore with the world around us. We rail against ourselves.

But what would it do for our faith practice (and our mental health in an election year) if we relinquished our demands (which we assert as God’s demands) for humankind, and viewed us instead as natural evolving animals that have yet to reach our fullness? What if, instead of being once perfect, unnatural and rebellious animals deserving of punishment, we are instead incomplete, natural and evolving animals deserving of compassion? How might that change how we see each other and ourselves? What patience and compassion might we find for each other and ourselves? What solutions for our social ills might it imply?

And as for the Christian faith, would not the Gospel still ring true? Would we not still be in need of redemption and reconciliation? Would not contemplation and prayer still make sense for healing and wholeness? Would not following Christ and the way of the cross still make sense?

While this would not much change our politics, might it at least change us?

Certificate in Contemplation and Creation Care
Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South

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Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

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