Again, Yet or Spill? The Gulf and Religion

June 16, 2010 - 8:31 pm 22 Comments

Again, Yet, or Spill?
Taking a look at our ecological and ethical crisis, and making some soul searching conclusions about church, culture, and the changes in consciousness that are needed, and how best to take an inclusive approach to cleaning up our self created mess!

After listening intently to the President’s address last night on the disaster in the Gulf, and in conjunction with some excellent supportive quotes, from Sojourners and other sources, I would like to offer a reflection on the current… And ongoing socioeconomic and cutural-industrial crisis from a spiritual and religious point of view…

I begin by offering this quote from the poet and social critic, Mary Oliver:
We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity.
Mary Oliver, from her poem “Of the Empire”

From the writings of progressive Catholic theologian, Donald Gelpi, we find similar questions and an exposition of his larger ecclesial and cultural concerns. He gives us his reflections on the Spirit, the Church, and human nature in these words:

“In my darker moments I began to wonder if humans can achieve authentic faith in the Spirit in a fragmented church composed of fragmented people. Both personal and pastoral experience have taught me that our human perception of God is filtered through feeling, through image, through language, through spontaneous beliefs and prejudices. And evaluative filters can either illuminate or distort our sense of the divine.
Our creedal stance is shaped by ritual but also marred by superstition, neurosis, and human limitation. It is conditioned by history, molded by half-understood abstractions. Our denominational creeds are like the froth that scuds across beach flats in the wake of a storm. The thundering debates that engendered them have subsided into oblivion.
Because it is a form of human awareness, Spirit consciousness flickers. It has flickered in my own life. It flickers in the lives of most Christians. The forces that shape or inhibit Spirit awareness in both individuals and communities interweave in complex patterns. And unless we criticize those forces they will continue to inhibit and distort Christian awareness of the Spirit. One such force is theology.”

One of the glaring omissions so far in the Gulf debacle is the silence of a majority of our mainstream churches. I suspect that some of that reason is their lack of a theological and spiritual connection to ecology and to the ecosystem, and how some churches remain largely uninformed concerning the connection between ecology, Spirit, and life! However, there maybe a more pernicious yet largely unconscious motive which is that most churches, affecting the Protestant ones most acutely, as they have relied on laizze fare capitalism for their funding. It is speculated that 50% of the churches in the East continue to exist because of the historically generous endowments from a few generations ago, and those funds being provided by industrialists whose fortunes were amassed from a general disregard for the ecological results of their industry… and worse, the lack of a theological conscience gave an implicit permission to begin the now looming ecocide that first began with their amoral, yet all too profitable enterprises.
Complicit corporate disregard for an ecologically based consciousness has acted as a systemic and accumulating poison to the biosphere and to the point of species extinction and the endangerment of sentient life. The mounting consequences of industrial ignorance and its greed fueled incentives, has fostered an systemic corporate myopia and an economic stolidness that becomes entrenched and insistent in seeking to satisfy its rapacious and exploitive needs. As a consequence, corporate petroleum and other aggregate businesses, avidly demonstrate an almost total disregard or a glaring disrespect for the privilege of the extraction and expanding use of nature’s gracious bounty.
This alienation from the land, the self, and the patterns of connection that that exists between humanity, life, and planetary survival are just beginning to be bravely accounted for and proclaimed. Historically, our churches and our Calvinist/Protestant ancestral brands of theology have lacked either the sufficient moral courage or the ethical candor to address these issues when they first arrived on the economic and industrial scene. The devil’s bargain between Protestantism and capitalism has only superficially benefited both- the costs to the integrity of a Christ-like concern for the creation, all of its creatures, and for our sisters and brothers has become reduced to a token, if not inconsequential concern. Few churches budget for social justice or economic parity or humanitarian outreach in any substantial or meaningful way. Polite forms of charity, versus true generosity appears paramount- after all, the churches have to worry about their own survival as social intuitions, right? Its popular to ask “What would Jesus Do or What would he say?” I ask, how did the average Christian in most of our modern churches miss his disregard for money, property, and wealth? How is it that we have conveniently forgotten about
“leave everything, take up your cross, and follow me!” And other such declaratives appear regularly throughout the Gospels and their parables about how the rich are spiritually impoverished. Not that social and ecological pioneers such as Rachel Carson in the 1950’s have not tried valiantly to sound the alarm bell, its was never really heard! It has been the whining and incessant clamor for jobs, wrapped up in the prosperity myth as part of the American way of life that drowns out even the most constant and compassionate voices.
As I see it, churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., and every genuine spiritual community that is rooted in compassion and justice are now being summoned- by the tranformative archetypes of the collective unconsciousness- be they angels, dreams, intuitions, or simply empathetically attending to the overwhelming physical evidence- to compel our religious institutions to accept their moral leadership by earnestly and openly take up the gauntlet, to respond wholeheartedly to the crisis, and accelerate the growing awareness of the necessity for wholesale economic and personal change that will eventually lead to a full scale cultural transformation!

From Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine:
First, we have to change our language. This isn’t a little “spill,” it is an environmental catastrophe — the potential contamination of a whole gulf (already a third is now off limits for fishing) and hundreds of miles of coastline, and it threatens to expand to an ocean and more coastlines. It will bring the destruction of critical wetlands, endanger countless species, end human ways of life dependent upon the sea, and now, it will increase the danger of a hurricane season that could dump not just water, but waves of oil just miles inland from the coasts.

Theologically, we are witnessing a massive despoiling of God’s creation. We were meant to be stewards of the Gulf of Mexico, the wetlands that protect and spawn life, the islands and beaches, and all of God’s creatures who inhabit the marine world. But instead, we are watching the destruction of all that. Why? Because of the greed for profits; because of deception and lies; because of both private and public irresponsibility. And at the root, because of an ethic of endless economic growth, fueled by carbon-based fossil fuels, that is ultimately unsustainable and unstable.

It’s not just that BP has lied, even though they have — over and over — to cover up their behavior and avoid their obligations. It is that BP is a lie; what it stands for is a lie. It is a lie that we can continue to live this way, a lie that our style of life is stable and sustainable, a lie that these huge oil companies are really committed to a safe and renewable energy future. BP should indeed be made to pay for this crime against the creation — likely with its very existence.

But I am also reminded of what G.K. Chesterton once said when asked what was most wrong with the world. He reportedly replied, “I am.” Already, we are hearing some deeper reflection on the meaning of this daily disaster. Almost everyone now apparently agrees with the new direction of a “clean energy economy.” And we know that will require a re-wiring of the energy grid (which many hope BP will have no part in). But it will also require a re-wiring of ourselves — our demands, requirements, and insatiable desires. Our oil addiction has led us to environmental destruction, endless wars, and the sacrifice of young lives, and it has put our very souls in jeopardy. New York Times columnist Tom Freidman recently wondered about the deeper meaning of the Great Recession when he asked, “What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last fifty years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said, ‘No More.'” The Great Spill makes the point even more.

There is not one answer to this calamity; there are many: corporate responsibility, for a change; serious government regulation, for a change; public accountability, for a change; and real civic mobilization to protect the endangered waters, coasts, species, and people’s livelihoods. But at a deeper level, we literally need a conversion of our habits of the heart, our energy sources, and our lifestyle choices. At a deep level, what’s not working in the U.S. is our lifestyle — particularly the consumerist energy habits we showcase to the rest of the world. Moving toward a “clean energy economy” will require more than just a re-wiring of the energy grid; it will also take a re-wiring of ourselves — a conversion, really, of our habits of the heart. We must adjust our expectations, demands, and values.

Remember, this incident that now threatens to smear the Gulf waters is only the latest insult to the residents and wildlife of that area. First was the accumulating “dead zone in the Gulf from the toxic pesticides, chemical farming, and animal waste disposal from factory farms, then there was the disregard for adequate housing standards in the lower wards of New Orleans, and the dismal, halting and regressive response to Katrina- some five years ago which is still a pressing, stubborn problem where there are still many residents living on the edge of a social disaster. And now… We have what might be considered a deadly gas and petroleum deluge… Who could say what will be next?

There is much to be done… Starting with the basic personal steps of energy conservation in our homes and daily routines, outward to every social group we belong or support, and implore them to make visible and substantial commitments to sustainablity and to proclaim that compassionate, ethical change and the demand for a theological and religious stance that promotes ecological justice is truly a matter of moral integrity and a true case of defending natural security! (Q: What is our National Guard doing in Iraq? How much greater and more important would their presence be in assisting with in prevention and clean up- here… Where we genuinely need them!)

One last glaring point… Because of our greed and the insistence on a profitable bottom line at any cost, we have encouraged a business mentality that does not willingly take into account the consequences of its actions. Is it too far fetched, too aggressive, too interfering in the life of these multinational corporations to insist that at least 10% of their profits be reserved for safety measures, or to create an ongoing substantially funded escrow account that gives the necessary assistance to localities and communities to protect themselves from the aftermath of a soulless technology?

Of course, there are many things we can do… Some would be judged unrealistic, others too unlikely to succeed, but here is one that I received as I was completing my ideas for this blog…
I want to share this with you and ask that you take this petition seriously… And ask your church or spiritual group members to sign it, and then work for whatever reforms and changes that are needed in our country, and in our own lifestyle choices…

Dear Rev. Peter,

Every day, people ask us what they can do about the catastrophe in the Gulf. Here’s one concrete thing: end our addiction to oil.

The Center for Biological Diversity and took an historic step in the desperate fight against climate catastrophe when we petitioned the EPA to establish a national cap for greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. The petition seeks to cap atmospheric CO2 at 350 parts per million, the level leading scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

More than 100 groups signed on in support of our legal petition. Tens of thousands of individuals are lending their names, including the nation’s preeminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, author Barbara Kingsolver, musician Bonnie Raitt, and actor Ed Begley, Jr.

Please take one minute to join us in moving toward a real solution to oil spills by calling on the EPA to do its job as science, the law, the tragedy in the Gulf, and common sense require. Sign the People’s Petition to Cap Carbon at 350 parts per million today.

And if you’ve already signed the petition, thank you. But to reach 500,000 signatures, we need your help again. Please commit to getting just 10 friends to sign the People’s Petition to Cap Carbon at 350 parts per million. You can forward this email or share this link on your Facebook page.
Click here to find out more and sign the petition.
If you have trouble following the link, go to


I support the legal petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and to the EPA to cap atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 350 parts per million — the level science says is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming — under the Clean Air Act.

For four decades, the Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe through a proven, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits exceeding its costs by many times. It’s time to fully use one of our strongest existing tools for reducing greenhouse gas pollution: the Clean Air Act.

Now is the time to enforce the Act, not gut it. I urge you to move swiftly to grant the petition and enforce the Clean Air Act.

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