Wild Ideas: an online exploration of the wild

The Calyx: Wild Sexuality The Commons: Wild Politics Return to Wild Ideas home page

In The Forest:

Book Reviews
Web Reviews

Stay informed — join WildNews, our announcement list:

E-mail Address:


You are here: Wild Ideas > Forest > Library >

The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents page for full permissions.

7: Monotheism and scientific atheism

With the advent of monotheism, things become more complex. The Judaeo-Christian scriptures carry mixed messages on the topic of nature and humanity's proper relationship to it. There is the oft-quoted Biblical mandate to:

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26-29)

But there are also passages, notably within the psalms, that have been cited as attributing sentience and responsiveness to nature -- for example:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy,
Before the Lord, for He comes
(Psalm 96:11-12)

The Judaeo-Christian view of nature and humans' place within it is a complex enough topic that entire books and Ph.D. dissertations have been devoted to the topic, and I do not intend to attempt to settle it here. But it seems to me that many of the passages cited by Christian scholars as showing reverence for nature, such as the one above, still carry a subtle but distinct difference from the animistic view of divinity-in-nature. Here, nature is capable of responding to the presence of dignity, but the divine itself is situated outside the natural world. There is a relationship between the two, but not the identity that one sees elsewhere. Within this paradigm, one can see the divine reflected in or celebrated by nature, but not actually resident within it.

But it is with the shift from monotheism to scientific atheism and the mechanistic worldview it embodies[24] that we truly begin to see Eliade's "desacralized cosmos" taking form. The gradual displacement of divine power from the natural world to an externalized deity set the stage for the complete desacralization of the world when that deity itself began to fade. As Starhawk bluntly puts it:

Modern science undermined belief in the last repository of spirit when it killed off God after he had sucked the life out of the world. No longer do we see ourselves as having even a dubious dignity as flawed images of God. Instead, we imagine ourselves in the image of the machine as flawed computers with faulty childhood programming. We are left in the empty world described ad nauseam in twentieth-century art, literature and music -- from Sartre to the Sex Pistols.[25]



All content copyright 1999-2006 by the individual authors, where cited, or by Lynna Landstreet where not specifically credited.

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Green Web Hosting by Dreamhost Site design: Spider Silk Design - Toronto web designers
This page last modified: January 29, 2006


Wild Ideas has just undergone a major redesign and restructuring, and may still be a little rough around the edges. Please bear with us as we get things sorted out.