Planet B

I’d like to discuss two specific aspects of the Christian economy (common to all the Abrahamic religions, but most prevalent in Christianity.)

  1. Specific Purpose External to the Individual.
  2. Specific Finite Historical Timeline.

In the second half of the 20th century many Christians were won over to Christ with the aid of a small orange booklet titled “Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?”  For many people, myself included, the allure of an all-powerful creator having a particular purpose for my life was hard to resist.  Who wouldn’t be comforted in the midst of a chaotic and troubled world to know that God was working on a grand plan for each individual person?

Not only that, but Evangelical theology asserts that god has a grand, fully detailed purpose for the entire universe (Romans 8:28 and others.)  No evangelical would contest that.

Furthermore, Evangelical theology asserts that god has a very specific unchangeable timeline for the the earth and the universe and all life therein.  In it the earth’s days are numbered.  This earth is slated for destruction.  It will be razed on the last day, and in its place god will create both a new heaven and a new earth, perfect and eternal, on which the elect will live forever in the glory of the presence of the lord.

That makes this world, in a word, disposable.  It was to me, as a Christian.  I feigned some level of care.  I recycled, most of the time.  I… no, that was it.  Oh, and I didn’t litter.  Yay for me. Iron Eyes Cody would be proud.

The consistent attitude that this earth is fading, dying, groaning, deteriorating, crumbling, is pervasive.  And how did it get this way?

Sin.

Because the first man and woman sinned, sin entered the world.  The perfect world was corrupt.  Instead of being perfect and eternal, it was now corrupt, and this corruption slowly works through the world like yeast through a loaf of bread.

So it is not just that it’s slowly deteriorating.  It’s that it has been corrupted by evil and that the only solution to forever rid the universe of the corruption of sin is to forever totally destroy it and replace it with the incorruptible.

Nevermind the logical inconsistencies in that doctrinal area.  That’s for another time.  Here is, to my mind, what makes this disposability so pernicious:

Once freed from the notion that there is a paternalistic being looking over everything an applying some sort of purpose, you begin to see life and nature for the beautifully random thing it is.  There is no upcoming final countdown.  There is no specific redeeming of this particular earth.  In fact, the Earth fits quite perfectly into its space in this natural universe.  It does not exhibit some sort of special corruption that is unique from the rest of the unscathed universe.  Everything operates by the same physical laws that govern the rest of the universe.

When you see there is no why you can also see there is no must.

Catch this.  There is no external authority guaranteeing the permanent continuation of the human race, or any particular Earth species. We are here on this planet, and only we care.  There is nobody out there guarding us against catastrophe.  As we have seen time and time again, nature is no respecter of persons or animals or any particular life forms.  It simply is.  We are self-conscious animals who psychologically apply meaning and purpose to our lives, which is excellent for developing community and partnership among humans, but has no bearing on the actual survival of individual or of group.

If tomorrow we were to set off all the bombs and wipe out all the species on earth – all dead, all gone, all so very quiet, nobody will care.

Nobody.

Nobody will note the passing of this race of people.  Nobody will remark, set up a memorial, or attempt a last-ditch rescue.  Nobody will notice a thing.  The universe will be as quiet here as anywhere.

There is only this small group of tiny people on this tiny orb.  We care.  Only we care.  It’s up to us to care.  We have nowhere to take out an insurance policy, to institute any guarantee.  We have to care.  There isn’t a line in the sand that we cannot cross.  Nobody’s waiting and watching to keep us from running our little feet into the deep end of the pool.  We absolutely can cross that line.

We can cross the line.  We can end human viability.

We have nobody to ask to prevent this from ever happening.  We have no second chance, no redemption save for ourselves.  We must take the issues of climate change, resource depletion, and overpopulation seriously.

Do I mean you should go tie dye your t-shirt and hitch a ride on the Rainbow Warrior?

No, of course not.  But it does mean that we cannot let the unprovable views of apocalyptic religions distract us from the reasonable task of caring for our environment.  It does mean that we must cherish this life and preserve and care for its support system for ourselves and for our children and theirs.

If we don’t – if we allow religious, unsubstantiated faith to distract us as a human community from taking proper care – we might someday find that we have not done enough, that we have stepped across the line and rendered our own world incapable of sustaining us as a species.

We may someday go extinct.  Well, someday we surely will – of that there is no serious doubt.  But we may find that we’ve accelerated the process beyond turning back.

And nobody out there will care.

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12 thoughts on “Planet B

  1. I know you didn’t ask for it, but here is my two cent’s worth. It must be very lonely believing that nobody will care. You already know we disagree completely on that, so why grind up sawdust.
    On your conclusion about disposability, I think you may have missed something in the bible. I understand that you don’t like Genesis because it has that creation thing you disagree with, but stay with me on this one. Several times in Genesis, man is given the responsibility to “cultivate the earth”. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but it is my understanding that the word translated “cultivate” has a deeper meaning than just plowing, planting, and reaping. It has the implication of nurturing and caring for something, allowing that thing to become better. Based on that, this Christian believes that we have a responsibility to care for the earth and improve it. That is the opposite of disposability. Mankind cannot keep dumping trash wherever we feel like (take a look at all the junk in the ocean – yuck!). We cannot keep using natural resources as if they were unending. And so on….
    So you see, we disagree again. 😦

    I think you missed the boat on both points. We are not alone, God really does love us and have a specific plan for us. As scripture says, He knows the number of hairs on our head; and He cares for us more than the sparrows. Sorry, but the sawdust wasn’t quite fine enough – needed a little grinding 😉 Also, He did tell us to take care of the earth and improve it.
    love ya, Toon [and hope to do a better job of showing that love]

  2. Just for the record, when I put up a post, I do so assuming I’m “asking for it.” Why make it public otherwise?

    It must be very lonely believing that nobody will care. You already know we disagree completely on that, so why grind up sawdust.

    Well, except for one thing – of course it’s not lonely. Not even a little bit. It’s a very crowded place and we’re surrounded by 7 billion people all in the very same existential boat. There aren’t haves and have-nots. There aren’t the elect and the damned. There are just people who are born, live, and die. We all live together in a finite world full of random chaos and stunning beauty. The beauty if, of course, quite in the eye of the beholder, because it’s only our personal perception that signifies one thing as beautiful and another as not. There is no evidence of any sort of external scale on which to measure any of those things. We are therefore more kindred than you know – all at risk together, all more interdependent than we realize.

    On your conclusion about disposability, I think you may have missed something in the bible. I understand that you don’t like Genesis because it has that creation thing you disagree with, but stay with me on this one. Several times in Genesis, man is given the responsibility to “cultivate the earth”. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but it is my understanding that the word translated “cultivate” has a deeper meaning than just plowing, planting, and reaping. It has the implication of nurturing and caring for something, allowing that thing to become better. Based on that, this Christian believes that we have a responsibility to care for the earth and improve it. That is the opposite of disposability. Mankind cannot keep dumping trash wherever we feel like (take a look at all the junk in the ocean – yuck!). We cannot keep using natural resources as if they were unending. And so on….

    It’s not that I *dislike* Genesis. It’s that there is no basis to trust it as a true representation of any truth of human and universal origin.

    I don’t disagree with you on the biblical impetus to care for this planet. I saw it so while I still believed and disliked my peers’ insistence on denigrating environmental activists as “whackos.” You do realize, though, that you are in the minority? Christians overwhelmingly support the GOP and conservative political platforms and viewpoints, and they take on the derision for those who place serious importance on the environment.

    That said, I have very much not missed the boat. I’m rowing along, and here’s what I see. The Earth *is* disposable in the Christian cosmology. It is not permanent. It is not the final home base for all of humanity. It is slated for destruction. It is corrupt, theologically speaking.

    Now, there’s no scientific backing for such a viewpoint of course. The Earth fits in quite nicely with the rest of the universe, and shows no unique corruption. It operates in perfect harmony with the universe.

    The other side is, of course, that it is believed that said destruction will not happen until God lets it happen. So we can’t kill the Earth. God will do it when he sees fit. Until then we should just keep everything somewhat straightened up. It’s a big difference between that and realizing that we are fully and wholly dependent on the health of this orb in its current environmental state, and that there is nobody holding back the destruction. We cannot destroy it per se, but we can make it quite uninhabitable.

    They are two very different mindsets.

    So you see, we disagree again. 😦

    You sound surprised?

    I think you missed the boat on both points. We are not alone, God really does love us and have a specific plan for us. As scripture says, He knows the number of hairs on our head; and He cares for us more than the sparrows. Sorry, but the sawdust wasn’t quite fine enough – needed a little grinding 😉

    Just so we understand that there’s no evidence of the existence of this purpose. We make our own purpose. Just us. Alone here on this planet.

    Also, He did tell us to take care of the earth and improve it.
    love ya, Toon [and hope to do a better job of showing that love]

    Love ya too – you do fine, even when you’re wrong 🙂

    How’s that for a zinger?

    • ok, good to know…if I do fine when I’m wrong, then I must be doing an absolutely spectacular job right now, since I am right. [zinger] 😉
      As for environmentalists being wackos…well, many of them would have their picture in the dictionary under the definition of the word. Of course some are like me. Although you now believe that our purpose is not defined by God, for the believer [me ;-)] that purpose clearly should include care for the earth on a long-term basis since we don’t know the time for His return, and it could be many thousands of years from now.
      One thing about science and “disposability” of the earth: the second law of thermodynamics says that things are winding down, and will inevitably grind to a halt. The sun will go cold, the earth will stop turning, etc. So this planet really isn’t permanent and will require replacement. I don’t know what your solution for mankind would be, travel to other star systems or something; but I know what my solution is – Jesus IS coming back for those of us who believe, and He will make a new heaven and earth. I know your intellect is screaming “nooooo”, but some little part of your spirit is saying “yes, listen to the voice of God again”. I will keep praying for you.
      Glad we agree on what to do for the planet even if our reasons for doing so are different.

      • …that purpose clearly should include care for the earth on a long-term basis since we don’t know the time for His return, and it could be many thousands of years from now.

        Who will care for it most? He who does so out of command knowing that it could be gone tomorrow, or he who knows this is it, this all he will ever have?

        You can paint it any which way – I know from experience that I worried less about the perceived degeneration of this world because, hey, the end times can’t be *that* far off, right? And I think we both know that attitude is pervasive throughout evangelical circles.

        One thing about science and “disposability” of the earth: the second law of thermodynamics says that things are winding down, and will inevitably grind to a halt. The sun will go cold, the earth will stop turning, etc. So this planet really isn’t permanent and will require replacement.

        So a couple of things on this – The second law of Thermodynamics describes the dynamics of energy in a closed system. The earth is *not* a closed system, so it’s not *just* degenerating. The solar system is also not a closed system, nor is the galaxy. We don’t know whether the universe or even multiverse is a closed system. That’s not to say it isn’t going to eventually end, but it is a gross simplification to pretend it’s simply a top that’s been spun on the kitchen floor and will simply spin out and fall over. And we’re not talking about a few thousand years to make sure everyone’s heard the gospel. We’re talking about millions upon millions of years. Who knows what’s to come, but since this place is it, it behooves us to consider ourselves as responsible for its condition for whatever evolves by then, not just for the next few centuries. The world will end, but it’s not to say it’s the END. It’s simply part of a cycle. We don’t know if there will be the introduction of some energy external to our ability to see and measure that will change the trajectory of the universe, the nature of time, or whatever. It’s likely that some remnant of this earth will still be in existence 25 billion years from now. Many scientists don’t expect the universe to contract again, so it may just be a cold speck drifting in orbit around the remnants of Sol. It may end up debris in a much larger belt of astronomical matter, whatever. But while it harbors life, we need to recognize that this is the only island we have. Until we find a way to create arks and find new islands, this is it. Period. There is no *replacement* on the way.

        Jesus IS coming back for those of us who believe, and He will make a new heaven and earth. I know your intellect is screaming “nooooo”, but some little part of your spirit is saying “yes, listen to the voice of God again”

        No, my intellect is at peace for no longer trying to convince myself of unsubstantiated delusions. I don’t have to scream. I can simply observe and learn.

        My spirit says no such thing – sorry, Rick 🙂

  3. This planet will continue on long after humans are gone. That may be because the “sheep” were raptured away unto eternal bliss in the clouds and the “goats” were thrown into the lake of fire (have I got my Revelation on there?), though I prefer St. George of Carlin’s take – “Earth will shake us off like a bad cold.”

  4. I’ve never met a christian that did not believe the rapture (pre-tribulation or post) would take place during their lifetime. How can someone who believes that their future home (and the future home of everyone they love) is safe and secure, care more about a planet (or home) than someone who believes this is the only one we’ve got? I don’t buy it. Also agree with Tim, this planet isn’t going anywhere. The “Save The Planet” slogan misses the point. In response to the thermodynamics/decay, and what will you do then question– Say someday WE do need to find a new home. Who is going try harder to get us there? A group of people that know the future of the human race depends on it, or the folks who have it all in the bag?

    • Also agree with Tim, this planet isn’t going anywhere.

      Me too – that’s why I was careful to focus on human viability and not on the planet itself. We can’t destroy, but we can make it a reallllly crappy home for carbon based / O2-CO2 cycle based life, y’know? 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, Richie.

  5. @ Tim – you are so right, Wall-E is a blast. Cute, and it makes several great points while it is having fun.

    @ Toon – I think you and I are talking at cross-purposes. You are painting with a broad brush and I am speaking only of my personal beliefs. Having said that, I do need to take issue with some things you wrote. You take your previous mind-set as a believer and apply it as a generalization, saying it is “pervasive throughout evangelical circles”. Could be, but I have never seen any proof of that assumption (a poll for instance?). That statement would be similar to me making a generalization about the pervasive mind-set of agnostics: I know from experience as an agnostic that their belief system can be summarized as “the most important thing is me, and second to that is my ability to be self-determining”. Not accurate, but it uses the same logic as your statement and neither is provable with currently available data.
    On the second law of thermodynamics, yes it does specify a closed system. However, the principles apply to our current universe. If they did not then the little desk toy with 5 steel balls on wires would continue clacking back and forth indefinitely and never come to rest; and perpetual motion machines would work. The word is entropy, and things ARE winding down. If it takes millions of years for God to come back (and it could, you know) then that is what it will take. Maybe that is why the ladies waiting for the wedding feast needed more oil for their lamps – it’s going to be a long time. Or maybe not, we don’t know – Jesus said “no man knows the hour of my return”.

    Last, you asked a question that begs an answer:

    “Who will care for it most? He who does so out of command knowing that it could be gone tomorrow, or he who knows this is it, this all he will ever have?” (sic)

    I will answer that with a question to you. Who will care for it most? He who does so out of a deep love for the Creator, or one who only does it out of self-interest? For example, when you have a choice to do something out of your deep love for your wife or out of self-interest, which will get done better?
    I don’t do the things I do out of fear [the big bad meanie will punish me] or because I am told to [well, now I HAVE to do it because he MADE me], but rather I do things out of love for God who created me and died to save me and forgive me. Real love does for others and gives to others. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13
    If your spirit doesn’t say “yes, listen to God”…well then you really ARE lonely, no matter how many billions of people are sharing the planet. I feel sorry for you in your solitude. As you like to say: *sigh* 😦
    Still love you, man, and so does God. 🙂

    • I think you and I are talking at cross-purposes. You are painting with a broad brush and I am speaking only of my personal beliefs. Having said that, I do need to take issue with some things you wrote. You take your previous mind-set as a believer and apply it as a generalization, saying it is “pervasive throughout evangelical circles”. Could be, but I have never seen any proof of that assumption (a poll for instance?).

      Proof? No, that’s true – but it is a very reasonable conclusion, probably the *most* reasonable conclusion when speaking collectively of the churches that fall under the “mainstream evangelical” umbrella. Dispensational Theology (i.e.: as bestowed by, say, DTS) pulls no punches about the condition and the fate of this physical earth.

      That statement would be similar to me making a generalization about the pervasive mind-set of agnostics: I know from experience as an agnostic that their belief system can be summarized as “the most important thing is me, and second to that is my ability to be self-determining”. Not accurate, but it uses the same logic as your statement and neither is provable with currently available data.

      There is one enormous difference, and I already touched on it. Agnosticism isn’t a set of positive claims with specific cosmological and theological definitions written down by people who claim to have authority and who rely on the same written authority that can then be examined by others. They write these claims down, vet them, interpret them, and from that develop a prescription for personal behavior in nearly all situations, creating a system of conformance. If someone in this group claims not to believe a certain tenet, that person’s peers and leaders will attempt to bring him or her back into conformance, and will have plenty of backup to convince that person, provided that person still considers themselves part of the group, and the accepted authority as trustworthy.

      In contrast, Agnosticism is a lack. It is admittance of not-knowing, and even an insistence that one cannot know. It is a rejection of all religious certainty. There are no rules of conformance – rather there is a rejection of the seeming arbitrary rules of conformance. Each person’s rejection and path outside of those umbrellas take varied and diverse courses. There is no uniformity that anyone can point to and say “that’s their doctrinal statement – that’s the set of positive claims they believe.” Therefore there is no frame of reference where you can make such a claim. Agnostics can be more selfless than Christians. They can be less. They can be all points in between. But there is no singular authority where you can nail them down to a particular belief.

      On the second law of thermodynamics, yes it does specify a closed system. However, the principles apply to our current universe. If they did not then the little desk toy with 5 steel balls on wires would continue clacking back and forth indefinitely and never come to rest; and perpetual motion machines would work. The word is entropy, and things ARE winding down. If it takes millions of years for God to come back (and it could, you know) then that is what it will take. Maybe that is why the ladies waiting for the wedding feast needed more oil for their lamps – it’s going to be a long time. Or maybe not, we don’t know – Jesus said “no man knows the hour of my return”.

      You kinda missed my point. Things do wind down without the application of external energy. We do not *know* if the universe is actually a closed system. We can’t see to the edge. We can only guess. Systems are going to exhibit entropy until new energy is applied. Because we do not (and perhaps never will be able to) know how big the universe is and what is outside of this system. We do not *know* if there is a god or gods or an impersonal spirit. We do not know if there are a multitude of universes, or some other source of energy we don’t yet understand. Because it winds down as a matter of course does not mean there is in the future there is a turning or an application of energy that will restore or rejuvenate systems, etc. We don’t know. You can’t just claim entropy and postulate a straight line of decline. While that may be reasonable on a large scale so far, we do not know what comes later (no matter what the books of Daniel and Revelations say.

      Last, you asked a question that begs an answer:

      “Who will care for it most? He who does so out of command knowing that it could be gone tomorrow, or he who knows this is it, this all he will ever have?” (sic)

      I will answer that with a question to you. Who will care for it most? He who does so out of a deep love for the Creator, or one who only does it out of self-interest? For example, when you have a choice to do something out of your deep love for your wife or out of self-interest, which will get done better?

      One who does it out of survival because it is either that or nothing, or someone who thinks that such destruction is just a transition, a means to an end? That is the basis on which I reject your thesis. Doing something that is only temporarily necessary, and in fact is only marking the time until the new, perfect, not needing maintenance world is made with but a word. All that work of preserving is just a stop-gap. It has no lasting value.

      OTOH, without the perfect earth, then this is it. You either take care of it, or you (the collective you) perishes. Forever.

      I don’t do the things I do out of fear [the big bad meanie will punish me] or because I am told to [well, now I HAVE to do it because he MADE me], but rather I do things out of love for God who created me and died to save me and forgive me. Real love does for others and gives to others. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13

      That’s kind of beside the point. It’s not survival. If you fail, there’s still another earth right behind that. No worries. You do not have the same pressure on yourself and the fate of your peers. You might do something out of love, but life and the evolution of life is driven by the need to survive.

      If your spirit doesn’t say “yes, listen to God”…well then you really ARE lonely, no matter how many billions of people are sharing the planet. I feel sorry for you in your solitude. As you like to say: *sigh* 😦

      Except I’m not lonely. At all. It’s all in your head 😉

      Still love you, man, and so does God. 🙂

      If there is a god, then I know that he/she/it loves me (if said god has personality of any kind) – and I’m also sure that said god isn’t basing love and acceptance on a particular set of arbitrary beliefs that is just one of a myriad throughout the world.

  6. Pingback: Planet B Redux | Why I No Longer Believe

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