Monday, January 2, 2012

God's Gift, or God's Wisdom?

God’s Gift, or God’s Wisdom?

           In which I try to explain, borrowing a Christian perspective, the social concepts of sharing God's gift, or honoring God's wisdom 

            I live in North Carolina. The prevalent religious atmosphere can be somewhat conservative; concepts like recycling and environmental concerns, things that many pagans take for granted, are generally ignored. Or worse. I tried to explain this to a friend during a telephone conversation. Our conversation had drifted around to, as it often does, religious awareness in different parts of the country, and differences between pagans and mainstream religions.

            “When I was in Colorado,” I told her, “I was waiting at the bus stop one evening on the way home. A man next to me had just unwrapped his hamburger. His bag shifted on his arm, making him slip and drop the wrapper, and the top half of the bun, onto the ground. I watched as he picked up the bun and blow on it. Then he held the bun up, look upward to the sky, and whisper something. A prayer, obviously, something like, “Please God, wipe any germs from my bun so I don’t get sick, thanks.” Then he rebuilt his burger and ate it in about four bites before the bus came.
            ‘“What about the wrapper?” I asked him. He glanced at me as if he hadn’t noticed I was there before, and his eyes slid to the wrapper lying under the bus stop bench, and back to me. He shrugged and gave it a dismissive wave of his hand. “That’s littering, man,” I said. I didn’t mention the crumpled newspaper lying on the bench, or the trash can overflowing with papers and bottles of various kinds. But the hamburger wrapper, that was his trash, a piece he’d just now thrown away. It suddenly became important to me to make this a point, I don’t know why, and I spoke to him as if I were a member of the Christian faith as well.
            ‘“If you’re going to ask God to clean your hamburger bun for you, the least you can do is clean your part of what he made for you. This world is his gift to you. Leaving your trash on the ground, that’s like disrespecting what your Father made for you, you know?”’
            This made an impression, and he picked the wrapper up and left it lying precariously on top of the pile of trash on the garbage can. When the bus arrived and we all got on, I saw the exhaust from the bus blow it off again, but left it at that.
            “I think that’s cool, what you did,” my friend said, “I wish more people would act like that.”
            “I’ve done something like that a couple of times,” I said, “usually adopting a Christian perspective. I call it giving somebody a ‘Jesus Kiss’. It’s like a wake-up call to them to be more spiritually aware of what they’re doing. You know, wheel of life, the interconnectedness of the web, all of that. Pagans, I’m happy to say, are often already more aware of their actions than that.” She made a consenting sound like a happy grunt.
            “So what’s North Carolina like, then?” she asked, “the same kind of vibe?”
            “I wish I could say it was. There’s a lot of good people here, but, well… you know the general notion a lot of conservatives have, that hippies are just no-good bums?”
            “…yeah?” she said carefully.
            “Well amplify that notion about a gazillion percent. Not only are hippies no-good bums, but anyone outside the conservative mainstream, if that is what they are, is suspect, and the ideals that such people would endorse are equally suspicious.”
            “What, like recycling? Taking care of the environment? Like that?”
            “Um, yeah, like that. But even moreso. There are people down here who think that recycling is against Christ.”
            There was a pause, and over the phone I heard the backs of her eyeballs constrict.
            “What?” she said slowly, “say that again.”
            “Some people think that to recycle, to put something back into the system to be used again, is against God’s plan. It’s evil.”
            “How in the hell can they justify that?” she demanded.
            “Okay, lemme try to explain, from their point of view.” I paused, thinking. “First, a little backstory. I used to work at a big banquet hotel in Maryland.”
            “Don’t worry, this connects. Stick with me.”
            “So at the banquet hotel, the Head Chef rules the kitchen with an iron… spatula. He makes the final decisions on everything, and what he says, goes. If a dinner banquet needs, say, two hundred chicken dijon, then they cook two hundred chicken dijon. Not a hundred and ninety nine, not two hundred and one. The Head Chef is never wrong. If, of course, five extra people show up at the banquet and they have to cook five more, they bend over backwards to justify what the Head Chef had said. He knows exactly how much is needed, and nobody questions it.”
            “Okay,” my friend said. I think she saw where this was going.
            “So there are Christians down here who believe that when God made the world, he knew EXACTLY how much of everything would ever be needed, and he set it up that way. So if we recycle, if we try to extend the use of something, we are as much as saying that God got his figures wrong. We are implying that we have to HELP God manage the world, that we think he might need help to get his figures right.
            “And to hint that God might have gotten something wrong, is as bad as blasphemy. Because God is always right, about everything. End of.”
            “So… but….” Her mind was scrambling to keep up.
            “So. Recycling is bad because it questions God’s wisdom. Taking care of the environment is bad because we’re assuming God wants us to extend the life of the planet. God has a plan, remember, and our job is to follow it. Not try to change it, not try to extend it, just follow it.”
            “But what if recycling IS part of God’s plan?” she asked.
            “Now now, that’s putting words in God’s mouth,” I said, “if we were supposed to recycle, it would have been mentioned in the Bible.”
            “So….. my brain hurts,” she said after a short pause.
            “So the guy in Colorado, with the hamburger wrapper? He understood about taking care of God’s gift. But down here, it’s more important to respect  - unquestioningly - God’s wisdom, even if it means risking one’s health.”
            “And that’s life in the conservative Bible Belt?” she asked.
            “Pretty much, yeah,” I said.
            “Oy veh.” Which sounded funny coming from a pagan Jamaican woman living in Canada.