A Response to E.O. Wilson: A Letter to the Church

Connecting the Dots
by Glynn Wilson

“Let the waters teem with fish and other life, and let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.”
- Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 20, (Living Bible translation, 1977).

In response to: Creation: An Appeal To Save Life on Earth, by E.O. Wilson.

A letter to the church:

Dear Church Member,

You and I are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. We are descended from the same cultural roots and the same genetic code, although I may have more Native American genes than your average member. We share a common culture and common interests in ethics, community and a value for life.

Yet if you read some of the things I’ve said about you in the past, you may not like it very much. You may believe that we profoundly disagree on just about everything, especially on some basic issues like the origin of life and the role of the church in shaping the policies of state.

whitethroated_sparrow21107.jpg
Photo by Glynn Wilson
A white-throated sparrow just trying to survive…

Due to a recent letter to your preacher by someone I deeply respect, however, I am willing to reconsider my position on organized religion’s role in a dangerous quest to lead the world to the abyss of an Armageddon that does not necessarily have to come about to fulfill Biblical prophecy. Or at least I am willing to objectively suspend judgment for a time, in the larger interest of making a last ditch effort to see if E.O. Wilson’s appeal to your heart might change your collective minds.

You see like E.O. Wilson, I too can be called a “secular humanist,” or according to the political-religious fanaticism of the day, “The devil.”

I believe that the world evolved basically like Darwin said it did in On the Origin of Species: “…this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Like Darwin and Wilson, I believe there is no guarantee of life after death and that “heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves, on this planet. There is no other home. Humanity originated here by evolution from lower forms over millions of years.”

“Humanity doesn’t need a moon base or a manned trip to Mars. We need an expedition to planet Earth,” Wilson writes, and I agree, since it seems to me neither a philosophy of a Rapture or an escape to space are viable options for humanity. Both are fantasies born of human fear and creativity based on myths passed down through the generations – dreams that have influenced us genetically and culturally.

I also believe that ethics is the code of behavior we share on the basis of reason, law, honor, and an inborn sense of decency, “even as some ascribe it to God’s will.”

When I first heard about Wilson’s latest work and his appeal to put aside our metaphysical disagreements in the interest of saving life on earth, I was skeptical. I am still skeptical.

I’m afraid Wilson’s argument and book are way over the heads of most evangelical Christians. Rare is the Baptist preacher who would risk his own religious-political hide to join the enemy of corporate Christianity in an endeavor to fight global warming and the mass extinction of species Wilson predicts will happen over the course of the next century.

I am not even sure I agree with Wilson’s argument that religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today.

But let’s say for the sake of argument he is right. And in the interest of approaching the politics of sustainability like Karl Rove approaches the politics of unbridled corporate capitalism, let’s say this tactic has a chance of success. Let’s say an appeal to Baptist preachers can sway a certain segment of the religious community over to our side in the fight to transform the planet and set it off in a better direction.

Wilson suggests setting aside all the differences between science and religion “in order to save Creation.” For, he says: “The defense of Nature is a universal value.”

What Wilson may not realize, or if he does he fails to make it clear in any of his work, is that to accomplish what he sets out to do, it will take a massive reversal of public political momentum away from the Republicanization of the entire church community in the United States. The Conservative Movement pushed by Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson – capitalized on by politicians like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – has already caused so much destruction both to the natural environment and to human understanding that the cause may already be lost.

It will take an unprecedented change of course in human affairs and a smashing defeat of the most powerful forces on Earth – the large corporations that have amassed so much wealth that chances are they will be able to defeat any movement in the direction Wilson envisions.

Unless the multi-national energy companies and insurance companies and auto makers and related industries get fully onboard, I’m afraid there is not much the churches – or the scientists – will be able to accomplish.

Perhaps Wilson’s thinking is that if all the devout professionals would pressure their bosses at the Southern Company and Exxon Mobile and the like, they would change course. At the very least, a political strategy of dividing corporate conservatives and religious conservatives is worth a try.

I am skeptical that this can happen because the American worker doesn’t even seem capable anymore of organizing around the most basic issues related to his pocketbook, both salaries and health benefits.

If we cannot agree to fight agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA that drive down wages, or fund a health care system for the almost 50 million Americans not covered, how are we going to save the whooping cranes?

We can’t even get enough people interested in saving Homo sapiens or the Holy Grail of ornithology, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the “Lawd God” bird.

How are we going to convince Baptist preachers, whose contributions come in large measure from people who work at companies such as Alabama Power, to reverse their exemptionalism and organize to save obscure frogs in Hawaii or a host of unnamed bugs, weeds and fungi?

Wilson is right that people in most countries today have lost touch with their natural sense of biophilia – or connection to nature.

“They have pushed the rest of life to the margin, and rank its decline well down in the order of their personal concerns,” Wilson admits.

Yet he is still somehow an optimist, dear church member, and he has more hope for you than I do.

“I believe that as the scientific study of human nature and living Nature grows,” Wilson says, the two great forces of science and religion will unite mankind in time to save life on Earth.

“The central ethic will shift, and we will come full circle to cherish all of life not just our own,” Wilson says.

Is there hope? Or is it too late? Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Wilson may be right to think that appealing to the religious community may be the only hope left. We will see if he is right.

His formula misses one other aspect that will be important in saving the planet. And here’s where the church may actually be able to help.

I can understand why Wilson wouldn’t bring it up. He’s leaving out politics and war altogether.

But here it is: Mankind needs a different kind of leadership to come to terms with the futility and destructiveness of war.

It’s up to you, church member.

So, what do you say?

Will you change course and switch sides in this fight?

Or will Armageddon become a self-fulfilling prophesy?