Atheist or not, I must admit that Mrs. Mulford was my favorite teacher. I will never forget the day she gave me a pile of old Smithsonian magazines. I cherished them for years. I plowed through them again and again hoping to see something I may have missed in my initial scourings. I saw things I never saw before and read about things I didn’t even care about, but as long as it was in there, I felt compelled to read about it. As by design of the creators of that publication, it served as my window to the world. But not all windows have the best view. Naturalism has its dark side.
Saving the World
By the time I was nineteen years old, I was ripe for the activist phase of life. I had a cause and a passion. What little money I had from my unemployment checks went to saving the world. I bought a small parcel of land and I adopted a manatee. To save the ozone layer, I bought a bike instead of a car. To save the elephants, I handed out leaflets to people who could care less, but hey, I was doing something, right? One mailing list led to another, and WWF and Greenpeace finally found me. Alas, the true priests of the temple who were trying to save the sanctuary solicited my help. I wrote my check, spread the word, and hoped for change. It was now or never to save the world, or so I thought.
But my crusade was short lived. I looked around at a dying world, and I realized that nobody was in control down here. Everyday tens of thousands of acres of rain forests were being destroyed and government beaurocrats and the average Joe on the street didn’t seem to care that the the Earth’s oxygen maker in Brazil was disappearing. I began to see the futility of it all. Angst filled my soul as I began to realize that my vision of green utopia was not going to be realized. There were simply too many people, or at least that is what I kept reading in the endless tide of literature that rolled in. How can you change billions of people’s minds in time before the whole world is paved with asphalt and concrete jungles?
The Real Inconvenient Truth
Population control organizations began to contact me through mailings. Strategies were laid out in fine detail on how to work with local governments all the way up to the UN lobbying for strict ordinances and laws that essentially would keep people from owning land and worse yet, procreating. My favorite bumper sticker of the day was “You! Out of the gene pool!” But now, people were actually organizing and doing what I only fantasized about–diminishing the population.
I soon began to recognize the hypocracy of it all. Each mailing from these “save the world” organizations was made of paper–you know, that stuff made of dead trees. The bike I was riding was made in a bike factory. The steel in the bike frame was most likely forged on a steel foundry. The shoes I wore were made of both man-mad synthetic products and leather (skin from a defenseless bovine living in squalor conditions). As I thought it through, I realized that I was one of those Homo sapiens ignoramuses that I hated so much. I was guilty of existence. My hatred for people began to feel unnatural. But how could this be? Didn’t we all evolve? Are we doing what comes natural?
There were a number of events in my life that challenged my convictions. One unforgettable moment was when I was having lunch with some ladies with whom I worked (by this point the unemployment benefits ran out. I had to get a job). They were all older ladies, married, perhaps some were grandmothers. As we sat at our lunch table, someone mentioned a recent plane crash that killed everyone on board. Taking the opportunity to express my ignorance, I quipped, “Good, there are too many people anyway.” (I was speaking from the pagan notion of Gaia, where the Earth was simply fighting back after all her years of abuse.) But there was one woman who wouldn’t let me get away with such stupidity. She arrested me with her eyes and pleaded, “Oh no, dear, you mustn’t say such things. You are so young. Please, don’t think that way. That is not a good way to be.” Her response was riveting, driven more by pity than anger. Although firm and unrelenting, the lashing my soul received that day was delivered with gentleness and love without condemnation. Within moments, the other ladies chimed in giving their full support to her plea. I was out numbered. I went down swinging, but they were right, and I knew it. There I sat, alone in my shame.
To be continued…