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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents
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7: Monotheism and scientific atheism
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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