Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Idolatry of Nature is the Rejection of Creation

The Psalmist sang that the Heavens declare the glory of God. St. Paul wrote that the attributes of God, His eternal power and divinity, are apparent in the Creation to all. Christ utilized things as simple as a flower or a bird to illustrate God's providence. St. John rests his apostolic authority on having seen and touched the flesh of the very Christ. The Scripture has a very high opinion of created things, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. A continual theme throughout the Psalms is that all flesh will praise God, all things will give glory to the Lord who made them. 

Yet it seems like this is very far from how we tend to see things. Instead, creation is only for its utility in being molded and shaped. It is dead and lifeless. Hence the pervading modern sensibility of living in a dead and cold universe. "Nature" seems to be only component pieces to be assembled into machines.

Of course, a lively cosmos is not necessarily any better. H.P. Lovecraft, better than any, turned any stupid Romantic notion of "Nature" on its head. Yes, the universe may be teeming with life, who said it's friendly or benevolent? Like the pagans of old, the world was a haunted and horrifying place. There were vengeful spirits and petty gods around ever tree or river. Sacrifices were necessary to placate angry, numinous entities. Contrary to angry Romantic poets, the Pagans did not rejoice and delight in nature. Rather, it was a terror to live beneath the reign of Nature.

What if neither is the right solution? What if they are resultant from the same impulse?

Personally, I'm drawn to the notion of living in a cold-dead world. It's my de facto operating system when it comes to thinking things through. In some ways it's the offspring of certain forms of thinking spawned from the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. I am not valorizing the Medieval period, that was equally horrible for different reasons. But what I am saying is that I am an heir to a "disenchanted" world, but not quite.

I put disenchanted in quotations because I do not believe Weber was correct. Man didn't evacuate the world of spirits and enchantment, rather, we moved them to different locations. Instead, Mankind became divinized in an evil form in some instances. In others, "Nature" became a divinity.

But of course, when I say Nature I am not talking about the creation, the Heaven and Earth or anything that dwells in them. What I am talking about is this unified, essence that hides beneath the folds of material things. Scientists have many times become horrible excavators, doing so for whatever god or self-same deity, trying to rip creation apart to find Nature, the law or pseudo-divine ordering which, when understood, grants universal understanding. Nature is a kind of World-Soul, the functional heart of the cosmos.

Thus it was Deists who were the most avid industrialists. Nature-worshipers are not hippies, they are mad sorcerers. As Carl Schmitt would describe in his excursus on Hobbes' Leviathan, unlike modernity that followed him, Hobbes, as many in his generation did, held machine as a mythic symbol. The machine functioned as Humanity discovering the magic beneath creation, transfiguring itself into a god. The Leviathan was a mythic machine-beast, forged from the souls of men. Unlike Schmitt, I don't think Modernity misunderstood Hobbes, but only surpassed him.

What I've been misled to believe is that the created world is a source of idolatry. Not exactly. The Created world is actually a preacher, but it's Mankind's twisted desires that squelch the voice of God bounding through blades of grass and grains of sand. It is in fact a hatred of creation that manifests into the idolatry of Nature, a demiurgic World-Soul that one must either crush or slavishly obey. In the former, it is Man becoming a god, as per the Satanic lie, in the latter, it is a return to Pagan terror. But, even in the former, if man is becoming a false god, it is a worship of Nature as the source of magic and sorcery. Man becomes the measure of all things, the rightful dwelling place for the World-Soul. The rest of creation suffers under this arrogance.

What is a possible Christian solution?

In a sense, it is reaffirming and praising the Created world, ourselves included. This is not worship, but giving glory to God, the Creator and Savior of all Creation. The problem among Protestants tends to be the very opposite. In fact, it's a devaluation of creation that, in a sense, leads to an evacuating (perceived, not actually) of divine glory. This only opens the void for our attempting to fill it with our destructive lusts. Per Paul, we replace the truth with a lie. Christianity drove away the evil spirits of Pagan religions and freed man to worship the God who made all. But the "disenchantment" of the world only invited these unclean spirits in through the back-door.

In this way, the machine is equally a part of creation as the organically grown plant or animal. The division between "natural" and "unnatural" is absurd, semantically. Therefore, even the machine, the artificial, the Human inventions, are redeemed. However, in our world of "technique" (as per Jacques Ellul), we worship the machine as the synthesized Nature. Thus, machine worship is a form of Nature worship fused to the genius of a corrupted Mankind. Instead, the Christian ought to embrace even the made object as something giving glory to God, yet evacuating it of the evil spirits that plague it. Today, in our world of Global capitalism, that means driving out Mammon. Instead, a phone is an inanimate creature worshiping God along with trees and rocks.

Of course, this is not a facile return to seeing creation as creation. We have to appreciate a world in disarray that is bound under chains yearning for the revelation of the sons of God. We have to see that we live in a world filled with enmity between man and beast. Just like us men, all of the created world suffers under sin, death, and the devil. It is only stupid Romantics who forget this and fall subject to Lovecraft's damning critique (a lot of Evangelicals who have music lyric slides with a man with his hands up in a field fall under this ban). And yet, the hope is not a return to some pure, naive, state. As per the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, the abode of the resurrection is a Heavenly Jerusalem, a City. The creation will not only be purified but perfect, a city made, yet not by Human hands.

As Maximus says, Man is a microcosm of the creation, the priest of all created things. That's our vocation and our approach to the created world. May we shun notions of "Nature" or "Humanism" and return to seeing world as a place, though subject to manifold evils, where God's glory dwells and pulsates. The inbreaking of the Logos, in the incarnation, was not an alien invasion, but an alienated homecoming. In the same way, Earth is man's home, and it is where God will dwell. We are strangers to this world-order, full of national divisions and economic disparities. But, in the resurrection, the Kingdom will become fully present and the whole of Creation will be liberated.

Thus, as the Psalmist says:

"For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the Earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth"

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