Thursday, July 1, 2021

Bio-agapé

How much do you enjoy creation? This is a question most people do not give much conscious thought to. Many people can tell you that they enjoy a good view, going to the beach, or some other place in nature. They may say they love being outdoors, or doing outdoor activities. But if you ask them why, you will often receive a thoughtful pause before being given some recycled shibboleth such as, "the sunshine", "fresh air" or "to get away for awhile." 

Occasionally, you will encounter an armchair philosopher who can spout paraphrases of great literary genius' such as John Muir or Henry David Thoreau. It is all too rare to converse with a person who can eloquently express the deep emotional currents stirred by encounters with the natural world. It seems modern Western society prefers to consume nature as fast-food rather than a home-cooked meal. We want it now, as much of it as we can get in as little time as possible. We care little for the nutritional value and only for the taste. 

We live indoors 90 plus percent of the time, then run to nature for a quick jaunt on the weekend. A privileged few take longer vacations in which they accrue the highlights, the best views, most iconic destinations, mostly from the comfort of a vehicle. We care for the quantity, not the quality of our nature diet. We check places off our bucket list, fill in the sticker maps on the back of our RV's. But do we take the time to get to know a place? 

Do we stop and listen to nature? Yes, we hear the sounds, but do we listen deeply, as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau listened? Their famous writings were not the result of a 30 day west coast RV tour to see all the National Parks. No. They lived in communion with nature. They consumed it as a home-cooked meal, slowly, with thoughtful appreciation to the One who prepared it. This is the recipe for developing a personal and conscious answer to the original question, how much do you enjoy creation? 

Over a life-time of nature study, biologist E. O. Wilson says he enjoys creation as much as he does being at home. He has come to believe there is an innate pull toward natural environments, especially those that resemble the African Savanah. He believes all humans share this attraction and he has termed it "biophilia" or a friendly love for nature. In other words, he believes we have a longing for creation, similar to a longing for a close friendship.1

The difficulty is that many people do not see this longing within themselves. Our reductionistic, hyperrational thinking has trained us to imagine creation as a commodity rather than a friend. We view earth in parts rather than a whole. We talk of rivers, oceans, forests, mountains as separate entities instead of portions of a totality. We often pick one as a favorite and disregard the rest. One can frequently hear questions such as, "do you prefer the mountains or the beach?" "is your favorite season summer or winter?" We can have our preferences, after all this keeps one type from being over crowded, but each one cannot exist without the other. Mountains without the ocean would be brown and barren since rain would be minimal. Summer without winter would quickly cast the global temperature balance into catastrophic chaos. The seasonal swings keep the world stable. 

We need a change in our conscious view of how we enjoy creation. Cornell Williams Brooks suggests we need more than a friendly love for nature. Biophilia may describe an innate pull in our biology. We must develop a stronger relationship if we are to maintain creation as we have been enjoying it. Brooks suggests we need a bio-agape view of creation. Only then can we truly begin to appreciate creation as God intended at the beginning. He proclaims that when we have an unconditional love for blue and green spaces, for mountains, rivers and oceans, then we will cherish the creation as a whole. We will treat it as it deserves, as a product made by the hand of the Almighty.2

Bio-agape will enable humanity to regard nature as we did before the fall, as something we know and care for intimately. It is only then that we will stop using nature in a way that benefits the few at the expense of the many. An unconditional love for the biosphere will lead us to realize that all people enjoy nature and need what it provides. Some do not have more claim to it than others. 


By David F. Garner

Sources:
1. Chris Mooney, “E.O. Wilson explains why parks and nature are really good for your brain ,”The Washington Post online, September 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/09/30/e-o-wilson-explains-why-experiencing-nature-is-good-for-the-human-mind/.
2.   Cornell Williams Brooks, “The Call Of The Wild In Our Cities: Morality, Race, And The Environment,” June 21, 2021, New England Aquarium Lecture Series, 57 min 30 sec, https://thecallofthewildinourcities.splashthat.com/.

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