The Christian dogma of creation, which is found in the first clause of all the creeds, has another meaning for our comprehension of today’s ecologic crisis. By revelation, God had given man the Bible, the Book of Scripture. But since God had made nature, nature must also reveal the divine mentality. the religious study of nature for the better understanding of God was known as natural theology.
In the early church and always in the Greek East, nature was conceived primarily as a symbolic system through which God speaks to men: the ant is a sermon to sluggers; rising flames are the symbol of the soul’s aspiration. this view of nature was essentially artistic rather than scientific. Although Byzantium preserved and copied great numbers of ancient Greek scientific texts, science as we conceive it could scarcely flourish in such an ambiance.
However, by the early thirteenth-century, natural theology in the Latin West was following a very different bent. It was ceasing to be the decoding of the physical symbols of God’s communication with man and was becoming the effort to understand God’s mind by discovering how his creation operates. The rainbow was no longer simply the system of hope, first sent to Noah after the deluge; Robert Grosseteste, Friar Roger Bacon, and Theodoric of Freiberg produced startingly sophisticated work on the optics of the rainbow, but they did it as a venture in religious understanding. From the thirteenth century onward, up to and including Leibnitz and Newton, every major scientist in effect explained his motivations in religious terms. Indeed, if Galileo had been so expert an amateur theologian, he would have gotten into far less trouble. The professionals seemed to resent his intrusion. And Newton seems to have regarded himself more as a theologian than as a scientist. It was not until the late eighteenth century that the hypothesis of God became unnecessary to many scientists.
It is often hard for the historian to judge, when men explain why they are doing what they want to do, whether they are offering real reasons or merely culturally acceptable reasons. The consistency with which scientists during the long formative centuries of Western science said that the task and the reward of the scientist was ”to think God’s thoughts after him” leads one to believe that this was their first real motivation. If so, then modern Western science was cast in a matrix of Christian theology. The dynamism of religious devotion, shaped by the Judeo-Christian dogma of creation, gave it impetus.
Tentatively, we would seem to be headed toward conclusions unpalatable to many Christians. Since both ”science” and ”technology” are blessed words in our contemporary vocabulary, some may be happy about the notons , first, that modern science , viewed historically, is an extrapolation of natural theology and, second, that modern technology is at least partly to be explained as an Occidental, voluntarist realization of the Christian dogma of man’s transcendence of, and rightful mastery over, nature. But, as we now recognize, about one hundred and fifty years ago, science and technology, hitherto quite separate activities, joined to give humankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecological effects, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt.
It seems doubtful that a disastrous ecologic backlash can be avoided simply by applying to our problems more science and technology. Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature that are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians. Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature , contemptuous of it, and willing to use it for or slightest whim by and large.
What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship . More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion or rethink the old one. In the Judeo-Christian tradition a river or a redwood tree is ultimately no more than a physical fact. The whole concept of the sacred grove is alien to these faiths and, by extension, to the ethos of the West. For nearly two millenniums Christian missionaries have been chopping down sacred groves , considering them idolatrous because they assume spirit in nature.
The beatniks, for what they were worth,
ed a sound instinct in their affinity for Zen Buddhism , which conceives of the man nature- relationship as very nearly the mirror image of the Christian view. Still, Zen is as deeply conditioned by Asian history as Christianity is by the experience of the West, so those promoters of Zen may be holding a bag of promises of equally dubious viability.
”What does this have to do with Buddhist ecology? It is inseparable from it. For Buddhist ecology can no more be sundered from knowing the nature of our true self than mountains and streams can be sundered from our true self. The premise of Zen Buddhist ecology is this: When we understand what we really are, we will be at peace with ourselves and our environment. We will cease trying to enlarge ourselves through possessions and power, take responsibility for our universal self — the world — and start living to
give, rather than get.
A life of wisdom is a life in harmony with the natural world. In an age where filthy refuse washes up on shorelines, where we raze vast forests by the minute, where we pollute the air and water with chemicals, the thought of living in harmony with the natural world seems a long-forgotten dream. Like a sand castle swept away by waves we are eroding the very foundation of our existence. Still, we can return to a simpler, more careful, watchful way of life — if we know the path.” ( Ven Sunyana Graef )