Most of the blogs I read center on religion. I have always been fascinated by religion and myths. I was reading Greek and Roman mythology seriously by the time I was seven or eight, but had no idea that there was mythology beyond that. In junior high, I was introduced to Celtic and Norse mythology, and in high school, I had friends who were (are) Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bahai, agnostic, and atheist. We read the myths of these religions in our lit classes, and I had conversations with my agnostic and atheist friends about their lack of beliefs.
Religion still fascinates me, but now I also want to find out how others make their beliefs practical. I don’t know if that’s a function of becoming an adult, having a higher education, just being a pessimist, or something else. But I really enjoy reading about what other people believe and how they put those beliefs into practice.
And so the blogs I read are about what others believe and how they put their beliefs into practice. One of the blogs I read regularly is Drew Jacob’s Rogue Priest. Drew is a Celtic polytheist following what he calls The Hero’s Path. (I would explain it, but out of respect for Drew, it’s probably better if you read his blog and allow him to tell you his story; I’m just bound to get it all wrong, and it’s an amazing story that shouldn’t be told wrong.) In a post a few weeks ago, he writes about how he gave up a belief in the soul. The blog post links to an article he wrote for another site that tells the complete story.
The comments on this post are what spurred what I write to you now. As I said, Drew no longer believes in this thing call the soul. One of his regular readers, who is also a polytheist but has differing beliefs, believes that everything on the planet is ensouled; not just people, but animals, plants, and if I understand what she said correctly, soil, rocks, and other inanimate objects too. (I would ask you to please not make fun of her beliefs, and I will make sure that any comments that do are removed). Here is the part of her comments that jumped out at me:
The particular dangerous belief hidden in insistence that only brains create consciousness is one Christianity and materialism already embrace, that of a de-souled world, which leaves deserts and polluted wastelands in its wake. People who believe in ensouled nature usually take better care of the environment, because they believe in sustainability and regeneration, not exploitation. Truth? At this point, I think environmental degradation is an issue so desperate I don’t even care if it’s provably true or not, I want people to embrace any belief necessary to save our collective life support systems, because they are so horribly damaged and fragile. So yes, I actually do believe in nature spirits and reincarnation, but I want other people to believe in them too because I don’t see much else that will get people off their butts to protect the wilds which give our planet its lungs and recycling capabilities.
While I believe in the soul and that every human (at least) has one, I don’t believe in a completely ensouled world. The idea of an ensouled world is an old one that many modern Pagans/polytheists hold true, and it is the reason why many Pagans/polytheists are better at taking care of the environment than those of us who don’t believe in a wholly ensouled creation. Think about it: if you believe that every tree, blade of grass, bit of soil, and drop of water has a soul, you’ll be more likely to take good care of those parts of creation. Those things aren’t just resources for you to use, they are living things with spirits that can feel pain or joy, and their worth is inherent — they are valuable in and of themselves, and because they were created by Deity. But if you believe that only humans (or humans and animals, at the most) have souls, you are more likely to see trees, soil, and water as resources to be used for our pleasure and gain, with no worth other than what we assign to them. Even if you believe that God created all, you might think that He created all for our pleasure, purpose, and gain.
And this is why so many Christians think that taking care of the earth and being a good environmental steward makes a person a Pagan. Because obviously, if you are taking care of the earth, you must believe that it’s because everything on earth has a soul and consciousness, which means that you don’t really believe in the Christian God, and therefor, you must be Pagan. And good Christians stay away from anything Pagan.
Fortunately, the number of Christians who believe in taking care of creation is growing. You don’t have to be a Pagan or a polytheist or an atheist to be an environmentalist, and being an environmentalist does not make someone a Pagan, polytheist, or atheist. We believe in taking care of the earth because God created it. While we realize that everything on earth is a resource, we dislike the word “resource” because it makes everything it touches a tool for our use with no worth beyond what we give it. We recognize that we can’t live without the soil, air, water, and all the many things that are produced therein, but we also know that God created all things. And because God created those things, they all have worth beyond what we humans could ever assign to them. They are valuable because God created them, and they have value simply because they exist. So while we must use those things to grow food, make clothes and houses, and all the other things we need to live, we also understand that using those things God created makes us responsible for taking care of those things God created.
Unlike this commenter, I do not think that every single part of God’s creation has a soul; but like this commenter, I believe that environmental degradation is a desperate issue and that our life support systems are damaged and fragile. We go the way of the earth, and if we damage or kill it, we do the same to ourselves. In our desire to use and consume our “resources,” we are slowly killing life on earth — including ours.
If you believe that God created the earth, it is time (if you haven’t already) to start taking care of the earth. Do you believe this world is a gift? Put that into practice. Begin taking care of like it’s the best gift you’ve ever been given. Take better care of it than you would your grandmother’s bone china or your great Uncle’s hunting rifle: handle it with gentleness, keep it clean, treat it with respect. If you wouldn’t feed something to your child, don’t dump it in the soil, water, or air.
God created the earth, and he left it in our hands to be good stewards. If we believe that God loves us and created us, then it is time for us to be the environmental stewards He has told us to be.
Written by Stephanie Moulton and originally posted January 10, 2013 at Flood.