An Unanswered Question (Instead of Guilt, 1)

Instead of guilt, my hope, for myself and for all of us, is to be drawn by love, toward love, into acts of care for all of life.

The second source of the living tradition we share is:
"Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."
The prophetic tradition is all about speaking truth to power. What if the power to which you need to speak some truth is yourself? What does it look like to confront yourself with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?

Because we are all doing harm. Feeling guilty about that may not be the most helpful move, but I do think it’s good to recognize that fact. We harm other sentient beings and we harm the earth.

Strict adherents of the Indian religion Jainism carefully sweep the walkway wherever they go to avoid stepping on a bug, and wear a cloth over their mouth and nose lest they breathe in some organism. They’re trying really hard not to do any harm to any animal, but agriculture is not forbidden in Jainism. If you’re going to plough the ground, you’re going to cut through some worms and kill various microbes. There’s just no way around it.

The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, besides being really into geometry, also had a very strict moral-religious code. They said, eat only fruits, berries, and nuts that have fallen by themselves from the tree. Don’t even hurt the tree by plucking it. I don’t know if that ever really worked, and I don’t think we could keep 7 billion humans fed that way. We’re going to need agriculture, and agriculture is going to do some killing. We do harm – and we have to.

We also harm our environment, and maybe, in this case, we don’t have to, but we will – unless and until catastrophe stops us.

The Earth does regenerate continuously, but we’re using it up faster than earth can replenish.
“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what humans use up in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.” (Global Footprint Network)
If everyone lived the way the average American does, it would take four Earths to sustain the 7 billion people. We’re doing harm, and it’s pretty clear we’re going to go on doing harm. In this country a significant chunk of the populace still has doubts about whether climate change is the result of human activity, so, I don’t see the US substantially reducing the rate at which it uses up the earth any time soon.

As for you and me, are we ready to really live sustainably? Apparently not. Maybe, though, we could move a little more in that direction.

Sometimes it seems silly to try.

Some years ago my mother clipped out a comic strip from the Sunday paper and mailed it to me without comment. It was from the strip “Zits.”
Jeremy [to his friend, Pierce]: “Why aren’t you wearing your boots today, Pierce?”
Pierce: “Can’t. I’m boycotting leather in support of animal rights.”
Jeremy: “Then couldn’t you just wear your sneakers?”
Pierce: “Nope. The rubber soles are made with petroleum-based plasticizers, and I’m against arctic drilling.”
Jeremy: “What about your wooden sandals?”
Pierce: “And support deforestation? Not likely. I’m an activist, Jeremy. I have to set an example to show others that there is a better way to live.”
[Last panel, we finally see Pierce’s footwear]
Jeremy: “Hence, the tofu shoes.”
Pierce: “Teriyaki flavor. Want some?”
Sometimes the quest to do the right thing with our purchasing decisions might seem silly. Yet our purchases and what we consume really does have consequences. I wrote back to Mom:
"It’s worse than that. Tofu is made from soybeans, and if the soybeans aren’t organic, there’s the harm of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and there’s pesticides. Even if it’s all organic, there may have been monoculture growing, without proper crop rotation and variation. Finally, even if you fix all that, there’s almost certainly some oppressed labor somewhere along the way. So, Mom, where do you draw the line? Do you so thoroughly trust your government as to figure that anything they haven’t outlawed has got to be morally and environmentally OK to participate in?”
She never answered. When I saw her some months later at Christmas, I asked her about it. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," she said.

I can imagine my children writing to me with that question: “Well, OK, Dad, where do you draw the line?” I don’t know if I’d answer either.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

1 comment:

  1. Yep, Meredith, there's a reason why that Garden of Eden fable continues to have such a powerful hold on our psyches! We want our guilt-free purity back—wahhh! Clearly, the biological truth that we are a species without enough predators, along with this peculiar trait of compassion that compels us to save more lives via scientific/medical advances than our planet can sustain, presents us with a serious problem, which I am afraid we are leaving to our children to confront. My scientific friends talk about space colonization as a given—unless we self-immolate before then. Meanwhile, here we persist: fallen, guilty as charged, yet charged also, in another way, with the need for self-forgiveness and forging bravely on.