Check out this article about the resurgence of the survivalist movement.
Survivalists have been with us for a long time now — I suppose the impulse to hoard, fortify, and defend is as old as humankind — and certainly it is no surprise that our rapidly rising energy and food costs would inspire a new generation of folks with bunkers filled with freeze dried foods. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about the survivalist mentality in years, not since I lived in rural Tennessee (it seems that the backwoods is the survivalist’s natural habitat). Reading this article, I was impressed at how (on the surface, at least) “green” the new survivalists seem to be: eschewing credit cards and television sets in favor of family farming, herbal medicine, solar power and other forms of off-the-grid energy consumption. So, far, it all sounds good.
But then there are the guns.
Consider this illuminating quotation from the article linked to above…
These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that…
[Survivalists] envision a future in which the nation’s cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water … Some believe the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedoms. Others simply don’t trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.
… and this:
“I was panic-stricken,” [one survivalist] recalled [after hearing an expert speak on the bleak future of the world's oil supply], her voice shaking. “Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible.”
Frankly, I don’t blame her. Aside from a few tomato and herb plants, Fran and I do not grow any of our own food. We both drive to work (I have a typical long-Atlanta commute), and there’s no food supply near us other than convenience stores and fast food joints. In the apocalyptic world envisioned by the survivalists, we likely would end up among the marauding refugees. A breakdown in the medical infrastructure would basically be a death sentence to Rhiannon.
So the temptation to yield to the fear is pretty strong. And I don’t think the solution is to just blow off the doomsday scenarios as just more Y2K-style hysteria. Eventually we will run out of fossil fuels, whether it’s 2012 or 2112. And the fact that it might be after the end of your and my natural lives does not justify us choosing to ignore the problem.
So I think learning to consume less, to save rather than spend, to live as lightly on the planet as possible, are all good and holy things to do. For those of us who are Christian, I would even go so far as to say it’s a sin not to be moving in the direction of ever-greater environmental responsibility.
But if you’re motivated by fear, panic, depression and devastation to move in such a direction, you’re going to end up putting your faith in Smith & Wesson rather than in the Holy Trinity. I know people will always do this, but I think it’s sad. And it’s certainly not Christian.
We’re all going to die, and we will all suffer terribly before we do (and that’s not just a Christian perspective: check out the Buddha’s four noble truths). So the real question facing us is this: what do we do in the meantime? How do we prepare for a future that will, inevitably, involve suffering and eventual death? Do we grasp and hoard — or do we think communally and integrally and inter-responsibly, seeing our efforts at saving, preparing, and conserving as one part of a larger movement toward alleviating suffering when it arises?
If I hoard food and then the apocalypse comes, as a Christian I will be called, sacrificially, to share that food with anyone who needs it. And if a marauding band of hungry refugees come and kill me for it, then I will have died. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I’m not the kind of Christian who thinks we should make a fetish of death and suffering — death and suffering exist aplenty, and we don’t have to go courting it. But I also believe that discipleship in Christ demands us to embrace our own mortality, our own capacity to suffer, and in that embracing to remain present to love others and to serve them, even when it hurts, because something bigger is always at stake than just one’s own self-protection or self-preservation. And I’m not saying Christians should be reckless; only that when we protect against suffering and death, we do so not out of some sort of fearful impulse for self-preservation, but simply as a faithful response to God’s call, since we can love and serve our wounded and suffering neighbors more easily when we are alive and healthy, than when we’re not.
I don’t always live at this level of consciousness: it’s all too easy for me to get wrapped up in fear and self-protection. But by the grace of God, it is possible for me, or you, or any person of faith, to live grounded in faithful, fearless love. I believe that the gift Christ gives us is the opportunity to live so deeply in his love and faith, that we can truly obey his commands to live fearlessly: no longer fearing death, no longer fearing suffering, but rather living in faith and courage. I believe it is this gratuitous gift of courage that enables Christians to serve those anyone we encounter who might remain trapped in their own psychic hells.
Even if they are coming after our food.