I’ve occasionally taken issue on this site with James Wood’s seeming friendliness to religion despite his own nonbelief, but have also praised him for his terrific literary criticism at The New Yorker (he’s their chief literary critic and a professor at Harvard).
Wood gets more kudos this week for a nice short piece at The New Yorker (free!), Senator Santorum’s Planet. At issue is Santorum’s own phony theology (an accusation he leveled at Obama)—in Santorum’s case that humans can bloody well do with the Earth what they want. As Wood notes:
“This idea that man is here to serve the earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the earth” is, he maintained on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “a phony ideal. I don’t believe that’s what we’re here to do. That man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the earth, to be a steward of the earth. But we’re not here to serve the earth. The earth is not the objective. Man is the objective, and I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.” That kind of ideology, he complained, “elevates the earth above man.”
. . . Hence a particular impatience with the values of environmental conservation. For the apocalyptic Christian, sights set firmly on heavenly life, the earth might indeed be a finite and transitory thing, what William Blake wonderfully called a “mundane egg.” Man is what needs to be protected, because each of us is a soul, whose eternal fate is up for grabs.
So when Santorum says that we must be good stewards of the earth, there is religious zealotry behind the sweet words. He is proposing, in effect, that the earth is dispensable but that our souls are not; that we will all outlive the earth, whether in heaven or hell. The point is not that he is elevating man above the earth; it is that he is separating man and earth. If President Obama really does elevate earth over man (accepting Santorum’s absurd premise for a moment), then at least he believes in keeping man and earth together. Santorum’s brand of elevation involves severing man from man’s earthly existence, which is why it is coherent only within a theological eschatology (a theology of the last days). And he may well believe that man cannot actually destroy the earth through such violence as global warming, for the perfectly orthodox theological reason that the earth will come to an end (or be renewed) only when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. In other words, global warming can’t exist because it is not in God’s providential plan: the Lord will decide when the earth expires. This is Santorum’s “theology,” phony or otherwise.
It’s this brand of invidious religion, of course, that makes many Republicans so indifferent to what we do to the environment. Lay on the pipelines, the strip-mining, the offshore drilling—it’s all in God’s hands, anyway!
This is just another reason why religion poisons everything—the very Earth, in this case—and why it cannot be a matter of indifference, as someone argued this week, what people believe so long as they don’t try to force creationism into our schools. Even while we’re beating them back on the creationism front, they’re wrecking the planet on others, all in the name of God.