[Here is a summary of a short talk I gave as part of an environmentalism conference called Spirit and Nature in September of ’07.]
Judaism loves the earth. In the Bible it, along with all creation, is judged “tov” and “tov meod”: good and very good. In the Psalms we are told that God’s glory permeates creation. In the Wisdom literature we are told to learn from the animals even the ant (Proverbs 6:6). In Jewish mysticism ancient, medieval, and modern creation is God manifest. So Judaism loves the earth. Jews, on the other hand, are something else.
Like every other people, most Jews are driven by fear, greed, alienation, and scarcity consciousness. Like almost every other person on this planet we suffer from the delusion of separateness, dualism, and The Other. The people who teach us “Love your neighbor” have lived in fear of their neighbors for two thousand years. “The people who teach us “Love the stranger” are themselves estranged and afraid. This wasn’t our doing, but it is our reality. It is our psyche wound that we have yet to name, let alone heal.
I know this sounds harsh, but it is necessary if we are to avoid the vapid romanticism that so often permeates meetings such as this one. Don’t romanticize religion or tradition, for all its good there is a concomitant evil. Don’t romanticize indigenous peoples, pretending that they somehow escape the human predicament. This demeans them and is a subtle form of racism. Don’t romanticize nature. She is both wondrous and terrifying. Global warming is not a threat to the earth but to humanity. Gaia will take care of herself and remove four billion of us in the process. This is not going to be pretty.
When we stop romanticizing the earth we will stop demonizing humanity. People are as natural to this planet as the earthworm. Yes, the herd must be thinned, but we still matter. On this planet we are one of the ways, perhaps even the only way, that Gaia gets to see herself and say, “Wow!”
The problem with humanity is that fewer and fewer of us still know how to say, “Wow!” We have lost the capacity to wonder, to stand in awe. We have lost the ability to tremble before infinite manifest in the finite.
To reclaim our capacity to wonder and tremble, we need to regain our capacity to tell stories.
At our core we humans are story–telling animals. It is through story that we make sense of our lives, our world, and ourselves. But our stories have grown stale, and for many, and here I would says Jews suffer greatly, insular. We need a new story of creation that honors what we know from science and provides meaning to human existence. We need a story that spans billions of years rather than six days. We need a story that makes explicit what Genesis leaves implicit: all is God. We need a story that establishes a new tribe, the tribe of the living. Unless and until we humans can tell a new and healing story, all our efforts to live in harmony with Gaia will fail.