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By Jason Michael
How easy it has become through December and the first days of January 2020 to believe the words of 1 Peter 4:7, that the end of all things is near. One little koala bear brought me, brought millions around the world, to tears. As the entire world burned around her, she staggered as though intoxicated back to the forest and to the fire. Shocked, lost, and bewildered, her paws and chest bleeding, her back entirely raw and charred – one innocent and defenceless representative of the 500 million beautiful animals killed in the awful man-made catastrophe right now unfolding in Australia. Her frantic rescuers dowsing her in water from their drinking bottles and wrapping her like a child in a blood-soaked blanket reminded me of the efforts of the volunteers on the Greek islands pulling Syrian refugees from the Mediterranean. Her eyes, filled with grief and fear and pain, broke my heart – took me back to that dolorous beach near Bodrum in Turkey and the image of a lifeless Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler washed ashore during that crisis.
In the din of condemnation and criticism, a Swedish schoolchild crossed the Atlantic to address the United Nations in New York. Greta Thunberg’s message traversed the ocean only miles south of where emaciated polar bears starved on shrinking icecaps, above waters of falling fish stocks and poisoned by the millions of tons of plastic we have dumped there. She arrived in Trump’s America where the most powerful voices were more concerned about her education than for the future they are murdering. She and her whole generation are damned to an existence against the tempest of an apocalypse on a planet we have made less green and pleasing, a hostile and inhospitable hellscape far worse than any Hiroshima or Nagasaki.https://twitter.com/jetpack/status/1214430885556166656
‘No, thus have we made the world,’ answered Cardinal Altamirano in The Mission. ‘Thus, have I made it.’ We have done this to the world. The chaos and destruction, the misery and suffering daily on the news is our doing. Be it any number of refugee crises or environmental disasters – not always unrelated, the cause is human and not natural. Our wastefulness, contempt, and indifference, our greed, bitterness, and anger have stripped the land and polluted the rivers and seas. Economic arrangements we have supported and benefitted from, politics and policies we have voted for, and social systems which alienate and rob the many to enrich the few have together scorched the earth. We have sown the wind. Western industrial capitalism, the debasement of morality and our concepts of stewardship and responsibility have planted the seeds of our destruction, and now all about us we are witnessing – suffering – the fruits of our mindless labour. We are reaping the whirlwind.
Yet, even in the eye of the storm we are not powerless. We can change. We can even still hope to repair the damage we have done. We can work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:2). Approach this task as you will, ignoring the pervasive pessimism of our times. My approach – forgive me – is a religious approach, one rooted in faith and action, work and prayer in equal measure. I am a Christian, unapologetically faithful to the Gospel. This is the lens of meaning through which I see the world, its brokenness, and the need for our commitment and hard work – the need it has for our love and our loving-kindness.
One cannot be a Christian, faced with the destruction of the world, and not see creation as so much more than a gift. It is the tangible, real, and physical bedrock and foundation of our lives – of all life. The world we call home, in this endless ocean of space, is the canvass on which all life is painted. Without it we are lost, in every sense – scientifically, imaginatively, spiritually – lost in the vastness of a cold and lifeless cosmos of stardust and interstellar clouds. Everything between this fecund green and blue oasis and the edge of the universe is beautiful, sure, but it is not our home. This, our fragile woven ark, is all we have standing between us and oblivion. Yet, it frustrates me that the greatest resistance to the work of environmentalism, ecological preservation, and stewardship comes from a diseased and rotting new Christian thinking; a Jesus-enthusiastic, neo-imperialist, fundamentalist Christianity, toxically aligned to the powers of darkness and corruption.
No one bites a Christian better than a hungry lion in the area than another Christian, so here we go. No doubt well-meaning ‘Christians’ the world over have been seduced by a distortion of our faith, for centuries baptised in solidarity, persecution, and devotion. Since the evangelicalism of English Victorians like Charles Trevelyan who callously encouraged the Great Hunger in Ireland and the Highland Clearances in the pursuit of a New Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land, this thinking cut through Africa and India like a hot knife through soft flesh, enslaving the sons of Ham to the Christlike and white, Anglo-Saxon Japheth. Such ‘men of faith’ established the watchtowers of racism to serve the new united kingdom of a delusional Israel and Judah, writing the imperial blueprint on which another crazed evangelical – Arthur Balfour – would draw up the plan for Herzl’s Judenstaat, a white-colonial-settler Jewish State crafted in the likeness and image of the United States’ own manifest destiny built over the bodies of millions.
From this soup was born the Apocalypse lobby, a globalised new ‘Christian’ theology – a reimagining of an old millenarian heresy wherein is heard the cry of ‘anti-Christ’ at every Middle Eastern leader, and found the cult of a gun-wielding Superman Jesus (the Übermensch of the Americanist heresy), and the profoundly antisemitic faith of the Christian-Zionist. In one mass this festering anti-Christian ‘theology’ preaches the nearness of the end – a self-fulfilling prophecy when it occupies the halls of power in Washington, London, and Jerusalem; the unholy trinity of religious neoliberalism.
Lex orandi, lex credendi! What we pray is what we believe, and what we believe is what we do. Good thought, as the Buddhist tradition has it, leads to good action, and – as surely as night follows day – bad thought leads to bad action. Toxic theology – in every Christian tradition – produces nothing but bad action. When we prize the maleness of Christ over his humanity, we reduce women to something less than human; less than people made in the image of God. When we read the story of creation as permission to dominate and subdue nature, we reduce everything in the world to resources; things to be used and plundered for our selfish wealth and comfort. This new ‘Christianity’ wanders the world as though it’s grazing in a restored Eden, where everything can be taken without thought of replenishment. It offers the poor justification that to be enriched is a sign of blessing, so it enriches itself with abandon. It excuses itself with the idiotic notion that the end is near – that redemption is upon on, and so it works endlessly to hasten the end.
Blessings are conditional. However we think of them, and wherever we think they originate, blessings are gifts – special graces – which we can accept and discard. That is in our gift. We have the right of refusal. Blessed with love, we cannot take our lovers and loved ones for granted. We cannot take without giving in return. The gift of love is not a certificate of ownership. Likewise, the blessing and gift of life is conditional. Its continuation and renewal always and everywhere depend on our generous acceptance of the gift and our loving care for the blessing. I have never held a koala. I have never visited Australia. But in that helpless, sad little bear I saw all the suffering of the world. We all saw the cause, and we can’t ignore it. I have been blessed to hold a new-born baby, and having buried more babies than I would care to remember – I know how fragile they are. Everything around us is more fragile than we think, and all of it is precious and necessary.
Our hope of redemption, of a cure, is as precarious and delicate – and every bit as holy – as a wee girl crossing an ocean. The end comes only when we decide the end has come. The moment we reject the blessing of creation, then the end has come. And never will that have been the doing or the negligence of God. It will have been our decision, our ingratitude, our doing. The apocalypse is not and never was a literal end of all things, it was an unveiling – a revelation, and this is our revelation: Whether we are people of faith or not, our faith in life demands our action to save it. No matter how small our efforts, to save one life is to save the world entire. Indeed, the end of all things is near – nearer now than we want to know. But this doesn’t need to happen. Our good faith and our good actions can still make a difference. Time is running out. We have no option now but to accept the gift and live.
Bishop Barron on Misreading Genesis
5 thoughts on “In Bad Faith”
I’m no Christian Jason, but I believe you encapsulate the very best of humanity in this piece.
Enjoyed the piece and agree with the strong sentiment. We should never give up. But we need to actively work back through our collective failures and show gratitude for our God given world🙏🏻🙏🏻
Hello Jason “Our good faith and our good actions can still make a difference.” Spot on. Excellent article.
Thanks for this Jason. I’ve been trying to say this and similar to other believers for years and been generally ignored. It’s one reason I’ve ended up drifting away from the church.
It’s good to know I’m not alone.
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I have faith in humanity.