The following question and response were submitted to and printed in the In Theory section of the Burbank Leader, Vally Sun and Glendale News Press:
Most scripture promotes our careful stewardship of the earth. And yet, apocalyptic religious traditions welcome signs of the “end times” (such as environmental degradation, war, oil spills, etc.), considering it the fulfillment of long-awaited prophecy and the beginning of a new age of peace. What’s the role of free will in the face of such prophecy? Should we celebrate these “signs” or try to do something to minimize the violence and destruction? If action is called for, how should we rally together to battle our “compassion fatigue” and heal the world’s wounds?
Given the speed of modern communications technology and the ratings-focused output of news media it is hard not to feel that calamities of all sorts are on the rise.
While earthquakes, fires and storms have always battered the earth and humans have a long and bloody history of poverty, disease and warfare, we are much more likely these days to be confronted with evidence of their destructive power than we would have 100 years ago.
However, with the rise of global economic systems, we are also much more likely to be not only beneficiaries of, but also victims of uncapped greed and corruption – thereby becoming more than mere “witnesses” to unfolding events. Examples abound, not only in Louisiana.
We are becoming aware, if nothing else, of the ramifications of our insensitivity to the responsibility we bear one another as inhabitants of the earth.
While in the past it may have been possible to read into calamitous events “the will of God” (whether as warning or punishment or for some other mysterious reason), it is becoming increasingly clear (to religious and secular communities) that our individual and collective choices have influenced the world/the future in horrendous ways.
Free will got us in this mess and, I believe, free will is going to have to get us out of it.
If nothing else, celebrating the destruction of this earth or the idea of a “selective salvation” of its inhabitants discounts the precious gift of Life (contributing to suffering and raising real concerns about theologies justifying these things.)
Unitarian Universalists may not be united in their perspectives on God’s will. But they are united in affirmation of the relationship between our freedom as human beings, and our responsibility to care for one another, the earth, and its creatures.
While compassion fatigue is always a threat (given human limitation and the wounds of the world), freedom allows us to choose with care and integrity the ways in which we each support the freedoms of others.