I love the woods. I spent much of my childhood exploring them, catching snakes, salamanders, toads, frogs, turtles, and poison ivy. The woods were my sanctuary as a child–an escape from the troubles of home and neighborhood politics. Exploring strange new worlds under rotting logs or in small streams was an endless source of wonder for me. Even the watching of a carcass of a dead skunk or raccoon decay provided a certain level of excitement.
During my teenage years, I was a Discovery Channel junkie. At any given time of the day, I could be found watching some nature documentary by naturalists such as David Attenborough or the original man from Down Under, Harry Butler. But like with any other addiction, there are always side effects. Endless hours of exposure to environmentalism and naturalism created in me a disdain for the human race–a deep angst that only intensified as the years rolled in. The effects were quite predictable, and looking back on it now, I would say calculated.
With every program you were given a steady dose of the beauty of nature’s wonders and the ingenuity of evolution’s marvels. But then came the rest of the story. Along with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature came the hard ugly truth. You were rudely awakened to the reality of the countless animal species that have become endangered, driven to the point of extinction due to poaching, habitat loss, or some other man-made intrusion. Whole forests were relentlessly being slashed and burned to make room for human development. Water supplies were contaminated by human waste of all kinds from raw sewerage, strip-mining run-off, to industrial pollution.
All of this senseless destruction because of one common cause: humans! I hated them. Where did they come from? What is their purpose? So vile, so alien! Whoever did not share my concern for the planet was loathed like a roach. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some were in the shape of the big greedy developers who destroyed precious habitats and ecosystems for mere monetary gain. Some were perverts in the East searching for the ultimate aphrodisiac found in the horn of the rhino. Some were elephant poachers looking for a quick cash from the ivory market. Some were tribesmen cattle-herders encroaching on lion country. In my own little corner of the shrinking world, it was a congregation of Christians who cut down my sanctuary in the woods to build theirs. It was the new Burger King that destroyed two acres of blackberry bushes on the adjacent property leaving me without sustenance during my summertime excursions. From my perspective, whoever or whatever threatened the animals and their environment was an enemy in my universe. There were obviously too many Homo sapiens ignoramuses trampling around this little blue gem called Earth.
Succumbing to the influence of the naturalistic worldview, I denounced my religious affiliation. So when I was fifteen years old, I broke the news to my mother that I was no longer a Catholic. Not understanding the reason for my apostasy, she pleaded with me to simply have faith. I had no idea what that meant (quite literally, I did not even know the most basic definition of the word even in a non-religious sense). She told that I could not be an atheist, of which I assured her that I was not. I believed that God existed; I simply did not believe the Bible and that Jesus was his Son. Ancient religions with all their trappings no longer appealed to me with my newly enlightened mind, albeit devoid of a working definition of the word ‘faith.’
But the real challenge to my faith (or lack of) came from my art teacher that very same year. She asked the class to name our favorite artist and favorite piece of art. As others were celebrating Van Gogh and his Starry Night or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, I was cooking up an answer to top them all. With all sincerity, variegated with a wee bit of self-righteousness and manufactured piety, I publicly declared that “God was the greatest artist and the Earth was his greatest masterpiece.” There, I said it. My first confession of faith: There was One Great God and Artist and I was his prophet.
From the first day of class, our working definition of art was “making something from nothing.” According to that definition, I simply had the best answer. I expected my teacher would be overwhelmed by my profundity and insight–perhaps something akin to A Christmas Story, when young Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, gave him the only A+ in the class for his essay on his much-coveted Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle. Like Ralphie, I, too, was awoken to the sad reality that my teacher did not hold my delicate convictions. With all dismissivness, she simply retorted, “Well, that’s if you believe in God.” She moved on to the next student. I had no defense, but I knew I was somehow right. Safe to say that she didn’t get a fruitcake for Christmas from me that year.
To be continued…