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to hell

To Hell With Heaven

-Andy Lewis

Anthropocentrism is a worldview that moves all living beings towards a death worse than any torturers fantasy. In the end it's a world view born from a hatred of life, especially ones own life. A disturbing connection between some strands of Christian thought and this "death urge" as Derrick Jensen calls it, is the emphasis on a disembodied heaven and a general disregard for the material world. The consequences are clear. If people see their own bodies as rotting pieces of meat, caging their immortal souls for but a short time, how will they treat the world from which their bodies come and to which they'll return?

In judeo-christian terms, linear time is generally conceptualized as a movement away from flawed original creation(Genesis origins narrative)towards a perfected new creation (the new Jerusalem in the revelation of John).  This concept stands in stark contrast to an indigenous understanding of the eternal return or cyclical time. If one imagines the relationship between linear time and always leaving, passing by, the way one might watch the roadside sights come into view and quickly disappear in the rearview mirror of history, then maybe we can see the profound implications. Contrast the image of an isolated passenger in a car passing by on an interstate with a meandering path whereby the traveler moves into the land on foot. The traveler follows a path that moves with the contours of the land rather than plowing through hills and mountains as roads do. Cyclical time moves with the contours of the real world in much the same way that the paths of indigenous humans do.

It's a common critique of modernity that people are constantly in a hurry to get nowhere (or everywhere). It seems that linear time enhances this feeling of perpetual discontent with the present moment. It has been said that this culture is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, lost in a virtual world of high speed communications and an endlessly expanding array of techno distractions to escape into. Contrast the high pace everywhere and nowhere, constantly leaving linear world view of time with an indigenous understanding of returning seasons which mark the cycles of life, a slow steadiness moves through the  various manifestations of life, the way a river moves through a valley. Time ceases to be a concept moving people by the promise of a future. In contrast, cyclical time is lived time, the present moment which is the culmination of all that has been but would not be whole without the return. Thus the cycle moves with nature, the sun rises and sets. The snow falls and melts, leaves unfurl and drop. These are the markings of embodied time,  timelessness without symbolism. Linnear time is an escape into the symbolic realm of which humans are the master. As Ellul shows in Meaning of the City, the  root of the fall in the judeo Christian origins myth is a temptation to control their lives separated from the natural world. What better way to control the natural world than to create a worldview where nature is no longer the embodiment of time, a worldview in which time is reified, systematized to meet the needs of insanely power obsessed humans. But in the end even these power obsessed humans have become the slaves of their own creation. Time has become more real to most humans than a river, rock or tree. Time much like technology has come to define our very existence.

The emphasis of Christianity on a disembodied soul paves the way for a world in which only humans think or communicate in meaningful (read symbolic) ways, everything that's not human is a resource to be used for human ends and life in this body, in this world is nothing more than an audition for the real goal, eternal life without a body, without this world. This concept has shown itself to be a self fulfilling prophecy. There's much that can be extracted from the common Christian image of heaven, ie the cartoonish clouds with angels. Where are the animals, the trees, insects, dirt, where is this world? Perhaps outer space would be a better setting for heaven. Christians seem to revel in the notion that they are strangers with no earthly home. But it is surely these same Christians that have tried to make the earth a place that no one can call home. Christians have fallen over themselves in the rush to convert every human to this death wish and they have murdered the very world that their origins story tells them is good. This culture has taken it's cornerstone from christians and made it's hatred into the basis of the post modern religion. Science and technology destroy the world with an efficiency that could have only been drempt of by the original life hating Christians. The death march is so precise, so all encumpassing that even Christians object to it in certain areas of anthropocentric sensitivity ie abortion, biotechnology.  But they remain incredulous to the fact that the foundations for scientific and technological  ascendance were laid by the Christian worldview.

Vine Deloria said " Life is not a  predatory jungle, 'red in tooth and claw', as Westerners like to pretend, but is better understood as a symphony of mutual respect.." On a very fundamental level this quote brings to light the source of alienation among civilized people. This alienation which grows more and more all encompassing each moment springs from a violent, predatory worldview. I don't mean alienation in a Marxist sense of workers being alienated from the act of production. I mean the embodied alienation of domesticated humans separated from the community of all wild beings. If as Thomas Merton said "Christianity revolts against the alienated life." That revolt must find its genesis in a radical rediscovery of the biblical perspectives on nature and civilization.

One Christian theologian pursuing this rediscovery is Ched Myers. In an entry in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature entitled , The Fall, Myers posits the idea that the Hebrew bible should be considered "the first literature of resistance to the grand project of civilization- rightly warning against its social pathologies and ecocidal consequences." He points out "the bible offers numerous paeans to Creation as a mirror of the glory of the creator… YHWH is imagined as a roaring lion(Hos 11:10), a nursing eagle (Dt 32:11) and an angry mother bear (Hos 13:8). Some of the Hebrew tribes seem to have animal totems: Joseph is 'like an ox' and God 'lives like a lion'(Dt 33:17, 20)." Myers also shows the Hebraic connection to cyclical time "..Israel's ritual life is in tune with the seasons (ie the harvest festivals of Lev 23) and the lunar cycles: raise a song and sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp; blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festival day" (Ps 81:3)."(from: Surely this is the Kingdom of Heaven)

In "Led by the spirit into the wilderness", Myers places Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness firmly within the widespread indigenous practice of vision quest. He shows the connections between Sabbath economics and an anti-civilization perspective "Imperial Egypt typified the ambitions of civilization to re-engineer creation by exploiting nature and controlling the forces of production. In contrast, Torah's Sabbath regulations for the liberated community mean to interrupt this process by prescribing weekly 'rest' for the land and humans. (Ex 31: 12-17)". In one particularly insightful sentence Myers calls for a refusal to move God to the safe confines of Civilizations domesticates. "Only if we refuse to domesticate God's name will we be able to resist our pathological, imperial tendency to objectify everything else: nature, the works of our hands and indeed our own humanity."

 The choice is clear, will we continue the suicidal death march of disembodied, anthropocentric, domesticated Christianity, or will we embrace the wild community which our origins call us to? Will we precipitate and prepare for the end of civilization, will we join in the fight of all living beings to live in a wild living world. Those who choose heaven over this world, virtual community over real community, symbolism over substance have the whole culture behind them. Those of us who choose this world have life.