The Rights of Mother Earth

It matters what we believe.

As above, so below. As within, so without.

Bolivia is set to enact a law recognizing that Nature has inherent rights. From an article in the Guardian, these include “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

If such a law seems unimaginable in the United States, you are literally correct. It cannot be imagined because it does not fit into the majority worldviews in this country.

The majority religious worldview teaches that the Earth was created by a supreme being who then gave humans “dominion” over it. This worldview is based on a hierarchy of ownership: all rights belong to the owner, who can do with the owned as he pleases. One of the few things I remember from a business law class in graduate school was the principle that “the value of a thing is what it will bring in an open market” – no thing, not even the Earth itself, has value of its own, only what value is derived from its usefulness or desirability to humans.

Even our Christian friends who support “creation care” (and make no mistake, they are our friends) do so from this hierarchical worldview: they believe caring for the Earth is important because it is God’s creation, not because the Earth has rights of its own.

The majority secular worldview in this country claims the autonomy of the individual human is the greatest good. This new law demands that the rights of humans be balanced against the rights of the Earth. Some will see this as an infringement on their autonomy, and they will frame their arguments as a human battle – those who want to protect the Earth vs. those who want to exploit the Earth. Or worse, as a battle between “oppression” and “freedom.” They will never consider that the Earth has rights which should also be valued and respected.

It matters what we believe.

As above, so below. As within, so without.

This law fits well within an indigenous worldview, and it is no coincidence that Bolivia’s Evo Morales is South America’s first indigenous president. Despite our tendency to romanticize them, indigenous cultures are not perfect. But people who live close to the land understand that the Earth is alive and that it must be respected. Some of that respect comes from gratitude, from the “blessings” (as this law describes natural resources) the Earth provides. Some of it comes from observing the power of the Earth – volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wild animals. When you understand that you aren’t the most powerful thing in the universe, you start to understand that the Earth should be respected and valued, and that it has rights of its own.

This law also fits well within a Pagan worldview. The Charge of the Goddess speaks of “I, who am the beauty of the green Earth and the white Moon among the Stars and the mysteries of the Waters” – many Pagans see the Earth as the body of the Goddess. Others acknowledge nature spirits and the Spirits of Nature. Still others worship Gaia or other goddesses specifically associated with the Earth. The common thread through all these beliefs and practices is the idea that the Earth is divine and sacred. And if the Earth is divine and sacred, then it has inherent value and rights.

Perhaps most importantly, this law fits well within a scientific worldview. Not a materialistic worldview, but a scientific worldview based on facts and observations of things as they really are. Science has shown that we weren’t placed on the Earth, we grew out of the Earth. We share the vast majority of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos, large amounts with other primates, much with other animals, and some with insects and plants. We may be the most intelligent and most industrious creatures in this world (whether we are the wisest is another question), but the differences between humans and other creatures is one of degree, not one of kind. They are – quite literally – our relatives, and we are all dependent on the Earth to sustain our lives. If we have inherent value and rights then so do they.

It matters what we believe.

As above, so below. As within, so without.

What we believe about the universe determines what we can imagine, and what we can imagine determines what we can create. I am thankful that the people of Bolivia are creating something the people of the United States could not.

But I can imagine a future where the majority worldview in North America will be more compatible with indigenous, Pagan, and scientific worldviews, and I am committed to making that future a reality.

It matters what we believe.

As above, so below. As within, so without.

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