by Karen I. Shragg
Our home base was a very nice hotel, ironically named for the Catholic Church across the street. During the discussion on one of our longer van rides, I made sure to distinguish between personal philosophies and organized religion. I explained how I really respected the role of religious institutions as a place for the solidification of community support, especially around the rituals of life’s inevitable occasions. What I have a deeper problem with is the inflexibility of church doctrine to grow with the new and terrifying conditions we collectively face on planet Earth.
It is true that many religious institutions have charity drives and scholarship funds, preschools and weekly lectures. They give newcomers a place to feel at home. People like traditions. It makes them feel connected to their ancestors and in turn churches keep promoting them to insure that people will fill their pews with those who will fill the collection plate.
But underneath the veneer of these soft and fuzzy projects is a rigidity towards change. They have ritualized rules and traditions that were thought of when the world was a very different place. They are operating from a world view that formed before industrialization and technology. Their creation stories began long before the earth reached its first billion and now we are pushing 8 billion with little indication of slowing down. While it is deeply problematic that monotheism, at its heart and soul, never placed people in the web of life, this discussion was focused solely on adaptability.
I got my co-traveler to agree that we need all institutions to adapt to our tenuous situation on our planet. Overpopulation-inspired climate change requires us to adapt and recreate our habits to ones which will sustain us and other species. The animals we were trying to save in the Baja are having a hard time adapting to the world we have created for them. Sea Turtles and Whale sharks are hurting because they cannot adapt to the way we overfish them and pollute their waters. Adaptation is the key to survival. Raccoons do so well because they can change their preference for living in hollow trees to storm water pipes. They can eat french fries if necessary and make it. To be more like raccoons and less like the endangered species of the world, we need to be adaptable.
Research shows that it is our values which frame our behaviors, and so many of our values are inspired by how we grew up; and if it was in a church, then those voices have a lot of control over our ability to change.
If religions valued warnings from the scientific world and if they were flexible in their messaging, they would be screaming from their pulpits in an alarmed voice to their parishioners. They would be telling us more than to just take care of creation, they would create and read a new chapter and verse about pro-creation. They would preach that the old teachings about family size are no longer relevant in an overpopulated, resource weary world. They would have everyone sign a pledge to have just one-child families and frame it as an ethical choice. For the future of life for their faith-based community, they would promote ways in which we can reduce our impact on our planet. Instead year after year, they continue to proselytize ancient interpretation of texts that do little to prepare their flocks for the chaos which lies ahead.
My last act in the lovely town of La Paz in Baha de la Sur Mexico was to give my remaining pesos to an old blind woman in a wheelchair who was left to fend for herself in a Catholic society that has no social safety net for its elderly. This woman was sitting across the street from the church where nuns were having a Sunday bake sale and priests were conducting Sunday services.
I do not have much hope that the churches will become the leaders we need as long as people keep filling their pews with those who continue to ignore their ecological irrelevance.
Perhaps the first step is to point out that at least they should stop praying for salvation long enough to go across the street and offer shelter to a woman discarded by a world that needs to stop lying about how much they care.
Karen I. Shragg. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve Overpopulation, Grieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.