Compassion for the Earth
Written by: John O'Keefe
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The other night I attended a documentary on Climate Refugees. It was an assemblage of apocalyptic predictions about the mass migrations that could be triggered if warming continues unabated and the world warms 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. Things, the film suggest, are pretty much going to suck, I mean really suck. The goal of the filmmaker, I suppose, was to scare the crap out of us in the hope that this might motivate us to change. This approach bugs me.
Now, I am not a climate denier. In fact, I agree that unless we change and change fast, things are going to get bad, maybe apocalyptically bad. During my darker moments, I wonder if we have reached the end of everything and that the armies of gas drillers and oil mongers currently raping North Dakota and Alberta will actually succeed in dragging humanity into a dystopian future of relentless misery. So, I don’t need any reminders of why we should be afraid. My problem with this film and others like it, is that it relies too much on fear as a motivator.
During the film I found myself thinking about the incarnation — I know, weird, but I am a theologian. In particular I was thinking about Ignatius’ contemplation on the incarnation in the Spiritual Exercises. The incarnation happens because of God’s boundless compassion for humanity and because of God’s desire to save. I also thought of a little known passage from a book by 6th century monk Isaac of Nineveh in which he urges that we have compassion for all creatures and all creation in its suffering. The fathers of the church spoke often about God’s love for humanity as the primary motivation for the incarnation.
If compassionate love is the primary form of God’s engagement with the world, maybe we should attempt to imitate that. Rather than trying to motivate people to environmental action by stoking their fear, perhaps we should work to increase their love and affection for creation. This is the approach advocated by the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold. “We love only what we know,” he said, and “we grieve only for what we love.” God loves the world intimately, and God grieves for the suffering of creation. If we can tap into this and love the world as God loves it, then we have a shot at finding the inner resources and motivation to actually work for meaningful change.
At the risk of sounding trite, I’ll say it: love is stronger than fear. It’s a better motivator too.
Photo: “No Fear” by “Jsome1″ from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)
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