AUTHOR ID: Andy Lewis is part of a community of theologians and anarchists from Jackson, Michigan. He writes for In the Land of the Living, an anarcho-primitivism and Christianity zine/journal, and plays in the band Theillalogicalspoon.
In recent years, a growing
number of Christians have gotten involved in environmental issues.
While this is certainly a positive trend, it comes with a worrisome
side effect: The unquestioning acceptance of “green” technology
as the pathway to an “environmentally friendly” economy.
As an example of this engagement
between Christians and environmentalism, witness Wendell Berry’s and
Bill McKibben’s recent high-profile involvement in an anti-coal and
mountaintop removal protest, which included a mass act of nonviolent
civil disobedience near the White House. This stance against such horrific
abuses of the earth by callous industries is urgently needed. But it
fails to address deeper and far more serious issues: The continuing
ascendancy of technology, ecological disaster, and the continuing death
march of mass society.
It seems obvious that we should
work for a “cleaner” source of energy to power our refrigerators,
radios, lights, and clocks. Doesn’t that show love for God’s creation?
But our energy, even if cleaner than coal or oil, is still part of an
infrastructure that upholds militarism, economic oppression, police
brutality, cultural genocide, and other plagues on humanity and the
earth. The real problem is not just alternative energy – it’s the
totality of the current global economic system. We need to get rid of
all the militaries, all the police, all the infrastructure that powers
production and destruction. We don’t need to make all this stuff kinder
and gentler, we need to tear it down.
Many Christians (and others) who have radically discerned the crises of our world might respond, “Yes, I agree, but you’ve got to take it one step at a time.” Which would be fine if protesting mountaintop removal was understood as a step toward subverting the totality. But it isn’t. Often without thinking about it, we are advocating for alternative forms of energy to essentially maintain modern mass society with all its nasty, brutish elements. I am sure the military, police, corporate deforesters, and industry heads would be fine with whatever form of energy allows them to keep doing their thing.
It may well be that we are entering a new revolutionary epoch, the Green Revolution. This green monster is hell bent on continuing the nightmare of an exploitative system while hiding behind a mask of leaves and flowers. And we are welcoming this revolution, so enticed by the solar panel eyes of the mask we don’t notice the old fat men in dark suits peering out at them.
Ellul leaves no room for misinterpretation.
“No other religion has so severely condemned the origins of civilization
and man’s civilizing acts – not to mention its specific attitude
toward the city – as does the Judeo-Christian.”
Christians would do quite well to read Ched Myers’ writings on Sabbath
economics, anarcho-primitivism, and the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
Like Ellul, Myers calls us back to the biblical preference for wild,
undomesticated nature: “The moral tale of the fall in Genesis 3 defines
human sin as alienation from the earth. Not content with living from
and with ‘everything that has the breath of life’(Gen. 1:30), humans
instead lusted after the Tree of Knowledge; a metaphor for our compulsion
to re-engineer the ‘good’ creation. Thus the human vocation of ‘naming’
creation (Gen. 2:19), that is, living in a loving relationship with
it, is corrupted into the dominating role of ‘adjudicating’ the
world – a stance of control and instrumentality (Gen. 3:4-5).”
Ellul and Myers open our eyes to a provocative reading of the scriptural story. In that story, as human beings fall into civilization, God responds by calling people out of civilization. The first of these are Abram and Sarai, who are led to an oak tree that is called Moreh, which means “teacher” in Hebrew (Gen. 12:6-7). It is here that God gives the promise of land and progeny. Later, Moses brings the band of escaped slaves out to the wilderness where they relearn the primal anarchy of life. As Myers describes it, “The instructions of Exodus 16 could be said to describe an economic culture modern anthropologists call ‘generalized reciprocity,’ a subsistence culture of cooperation and sharing that characterized all hunter-gatherer societies from antiquity up to the present.” The manna which God provides illustrates “dependence on the divine economy of grace; not human labor or technology” (Ex. 16:32, see also Heb. 9:4).
Humans were not meant to live
this way. The staggering rates of depression and suicide in the most
high-tech countries provide one glaring example. The biblical model
of exodus points to nomadic hunting and gathering as the preferred way
to remember and relearn a wild undomesticated faith, total reliance
on God, and the blessing of communion with all of the tov or
So, as the Baptist’s interrogators
might say, “What then shall we do?” What does it mean, what
would it look like for us to leave the city, turn our backs on technology
and society? Let me be the first to admit that I am not a nomadic
hunter-gatherer. I live with some friends in a decrepit old farm house
where we engage in native habitat renewal, which mostly takes the form
of restoring oak savannas in Michigan. We are working to develop an
“anti-civilization hermeneutic,” building on theories of anarcho-primitivism
both among Christian thinkers (like Ched Myers) and others. Meanwhile,
we are experimenting in simple “primitive skills,” like drinking
medicinal teas, eating wild mushrooms and edible plants, and foraging
for food from the land we live on. We sit under trees and watch animals,
trying to open our eyes to life around us.
I cannot lay out a program for
how to live. But I am convinced that the biblical theme of exodus calls
us to give up all hope in a bright new age of solar and wind power,
recycling bins on the corner of every green city full of rooftop gardens.
Hope in these things mocks true Christian hope. Nor are we to all be
hermits or survivalists. We must relearn these old lessons in the wilderness
together. But, it is also not the call of exodus to stay in the wilderness
forever. We must return to the city and to civilization with prophetic
actions and words. What these will be, I don’t know, but they will
be born from wild encounters with the undomesticated God of liberation.
Our words and actions will be the antithesis of domesticated faith that
seeks God with the safe confines of civilization. The prophetic tradition,
which has been shaped by wildness from Elijah to John, is unpredictable
by nature and strikes at the foundations of power – which is why it
is such a threat to the architects of civilization.
At the present age when the
hope of the world is bound up with green technology and sustainable
energy, Christians would do well to remember the terrorist Gideon who
destroyed the idolatrous shrine to Baal (the hope of the world for that
age) under cover of night (Judges 6:25-35). Generations after Abram
and Sarai camped beneath Moreh’s branches, Gideon also rested beside
this same wise teacher (Judges 7:1).
Now is the time to find our own Exodus teachers, wise elders who will remind us, as Paul did, that “creation waits patiently and anxiously for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-22).