Is Humanity the Real Plague? (Spoiler—No)
A Response to Kristal Parks and Matthew Fox
I wish to suggest that the Coronavirus and other very threatening viruses (like Ebola and the Swine flu virus) are the Earth’s way of trying to rid herself of the parasite that is killing her… US. These viruses are like canaries in the mineshaft. And perhaps they are more friend than foe. –Kristal Parks, “Coronavirus from the Earth’s Point of View.”
I think they (Fox and Parks) make several serious mistakes amid their interesting observations.
I think it’s always a mistake to regard humanity as a parasite on creation as if we were a foreign intrusion into the biosphere. That’s a very dehumanizing way to view and becomes the far left equivalent to Evangelical fundamentalism’s ‘total depravity.’
This isn’t how God sees us. According to our Judeo-Christian scriptures, humanity truly is the pinnacle and steward of creation, imaging God in this world (cf. Psalm 8).
That said, we have abused our God-given place here. We have been exploiters and destroyers rather than faithful stewards of creation. And creation has suffered for it. And that needs to be acknowledged and requires a dramatic change in our way of being (repentance).
I found their description of creation fighting back with this virus to be an interesting metaphor, similar to a few biblical metaphors. I’m reminded of Leviticus 18:
24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled, so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
I believe this language out not to be literalized … but Parks and Fox virtually do that. Rather, texts like Leviticus or the language we use to describe hurricanes or viruses are anthropomorphic (projecting human traits to non-human forces) and/or phenomenological (language describing how things appear – like a sunrise). Literalizing these metaphors imputes to them malicious intent, just as it had for fundamentalist interpretations of “God’s wrath.”
A second error is that they’ve created an us-them dualism between nature and humanity, where nature is good and we are bad and that in this battle, people-destroying viruses are actually weapons for the good of creation and the death of people—esp. the old, the sick, the disabled, the vulnerable—is what? A good thing?
I don’t think so. Better to think in terms of divine providence in the midst of tragedy. How this truly is a natural disaster (not an intelligent act of violence by mother earth because we were hurting her) but that within it, God is offering a course correction to our own violence against the earth, which does create havoc and does generate natural disasters that are self-harming for us. So, I want to see the truth of what’s being said here but I would interpret it differently as a Christian who believes God loves people and intends for us to live in fullness of life in communion and harmony with the rest of creation.
Thank you, Brad! I appreciate your thoughts re. this meditation by Fox.
I must say there is a part of me that finds what Fox says making sense to me. It could be that very human, non-gracious, retributive part of me. I sure am wrestling with it all. This has all been stirred up after learning more and agreeing more with the Indigenous people and their early knowing and connection with creation. I’m so angry about how the beauty of their being, born in the image of God with creation, knowing how respect for creation has been “ripped” away from them through colonization and misguided notions of what was required in the name of Christianity. This is the ground for my attraction to Creation Spirituality and the Cosmic Christ (Ilio Delio, Pierre Teilhard des Chardin, etc.). I’m very much a newbie in this domain. I wonder, is this an invitation to the principle of flow, unfolding, evolving that Cynthia Bourgault addresses in her book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three? These are my ponderings these days, especially with Covid-19 lurking about.
Thank you for following up. You are VERY thought-inspiring conversation partner.
I think you have hit on the exact issue: should we frame this virus as an instrument of retribution by God’s good earth?
I believe treating the coronavirus as the earth’sretribution against the colonizing human parasite demonstrates not only a very low view of humanity, but also slanders of God’s good earth. It merely transposes all the monster-god heresies over to the earth (idolized as the dark goddess Kali), where creation itself is cruel and vindictive, and deliberately assaulting humanity in a cruel and arbitrary way. This mutation that especially targets the most vulnerable—the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, people weakened by disabilities—a weapon in the hands of an angry mother—and we are “sinners in the hands of an angry goddess. This way of mythologizing Covid-19 forgets that if earth is our mother, she’s been very good to us, despite our reckless abuse of her kindness. In the end, can you see how that might either slander creation OR even make fighting the virus immoral? The whole model begins to smell exactly like the televangelists who proclaimed hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on the homosexuals.
And again, I think you’ve nailed it by way of digging at the part of our hearts that warm to redemptive violence (the very thing we fled). Our temptation to schadenfreude is rooted in our sense of frustration and powerlessness and, indeed, empathy for our “relations” (the beautiful First Nations’ term for the rivers, trees, birds, fish, etc.). The real solution, of course, is to expand our empathy into active healing, rather than simply transferring our disregard for one set of relations to a new target group (ourselves!).
We are prone, under the stress of urgent and legitimate course corrections, to swerve from one ditch to another. So, it begs the question: is the earth better off without humans? Is that the best plan? I am 100% convinced that the earth will not be better off without you, personally. Or your spouse. Or my Eden. Or our children and grandchildren … all of us descendants of colonial settlers living on unceded indigenous territories. Would it really be best if the coronavirus took our families?
The New Testament model is that just as through one human, sin came into the earth and brought with it a curse on the land, so through one Human, Jesus Christ, redeemed humanity will behold him “make all things new”—with us as participant healers, for “the restoration of all things.” Redemption for the cosmos will be mediated by redeemed humanity.
Is the virus accomplishing our redemption? No, it is a thief that steals, kills and destroys. BUT like every disaster, whether we humans set it in motion or not, we look for Christ. He’s co-suffering with us and creation on that Cross, and his blood spills into the earth beneath him, including all of creation in his covenant of reconciliation.
Speaking of colonizers, this is a very complex question. Why would the things we hate most about human colonialism be affirmed in the colonizing carnage of a killer virus? And further, let’s be willing to nuance colonization itself. We should start with the horrors: it was colonialists who ravaged indigenous peoples around the globe with viruses in the first place. Then raped their people and their land. Occupied it permanently and either eradicated or enslaved countless populations. That’s simply wicked. But the viruses didn’t take out the colonizers. The viruses were their ally in these mass extinctions.
But there’s a flip side to that… Christ also called his own disciples to colonize a world shrouded in darkness with Light and Love. Yes, it’s easy enough to condemn the global spread of European “discoverers,” their proselytizing missionaries and often-dubious gospel of forced assimilation. At the same time, others among them preached the good news that God does not require child sacrifices, or want us to throw virgins into volcanoes, or appease his wrath with the rivers of blood drawn from countless sheep and bulls, or use temple prostitutes to satisfy its lust, or to bury wives alive with their deceased husbands, and so on. That was a true and bitter darkness that needed the Light of Christ. Where the gospel of God’s grace advances, these superstitious and violent practices recede. Was that a bad thing? So then, are colonies of Light the problem? No, but colonies of darkness sure are, even under the banner of “Christianity.” And you can measure them by the fruit easily enough.
Which begs the question: what are we currently involved in shedding light and love? And where do we participate in the expansion of darkness? In the end, that division passes right through my own heart. I can’t reduce it to us and them—neither of white versus people of color or humanity versus creation. That’s still the dualistic thinking of the ‘demon of versus.’ So, instead of focusing on nature’s retribution, how might we see this outbreak as an occasion for our reconciliation to the earth? And how might it become an opportunity for reconciliation with other people? Instead of redemptive violence, might this be a moment when we transcend political, racial and ideological factions that have polarized us? After all, has anything done so much harm to the earth as human inter-species conflict.
So, I’m going to propose that God is good and so is his creation. What makes humanity the most precious part of his creation is our capacity for willing love and the most dangerous trait of the human race is our ability to turn from that love. All other species of life on earth perfectly obey their own nature. Except us. This was God’s great calculated risk in desiring a creature that could image his freedom and love.
And in fact, I see a lot more of that all the time than the wickedness that ruins it. For example, if we all measured up just to you—not even Jesus—imagine the world! No more war, no more murder, no more rape, no more money scams the bankrupt the elderly, no more sex trade, etc. It might even be a whole lot greener and I’m betting you wouldn’t dump toxic waste into our rivers and seas. I look at you and your spouse and I think, maybe the Light is winning after all.
Here’s a parting bonus on that note.
Our Reader’s Finale
Brad, thanks for your response! It is very helpful and a beautiful reminder of the Truth when I notice something in me dropping into desolation and dualistic thinking around what’s happening in our world these days. I’ll add a few comments to what your response evoked in me:
As I think about the earth’s retribution, I agree this doesn’t line up with the redemptive knowing I hold deep in my soul. I wonder if the unfolding of natural consequences might have something to do with all that is happening: not being respectful stewards of creation; denying climate change; greed, etc. Did our ‘dark’ ways reach a tipping point?
Thank you for your thoughts on the colonizers! I was especially challenged and provoked by your comment that the virus was the colonizer’s ally against the Indigenous! Again, it isn’t as simple and black-and-white as I judged it to be. Another reminder to hold difficult issues thoughtfully and in a non-dualistic way. But, it feels (for a moment or more) so darn good to be “right” or “righteous” about something. Thank you for knocking me off my “righteous” pedestal.
Your comments about reconciliation were so hopeful. May it be so! I wonder if this is why I’m being drawn to a larger understanding of our universe and creation and the Cosmic Christ—dare I say bigger than Scripture’s story (although Scripture’s story leads to this)? What a beautiful thing it will be if this virus and collapse of the markets, etc. wake us up to what it means to be light, healers, respecters of creation and reconcilers in God’s world
Brad, your responses are kind and loving and accessible.
Thank you, dear brother!
Christ is my hope!!
Love to you and Eden and a virtual hug.