Human beings have always been fascinated by nature. Since we first started painting on cave walls, we’ve seen the beauty and wonder of the world around us, and we’ve wanted to understand it, tame it, take it in. We are curious creatures. After all, you don’t see a lion mourning for the lost beauty of a slain gazelle. You don’t see birds marveling at the loveliness of a sunset. If, then, we are created in the image of God, can you not imagine what sense of wonder He has for all He’s made?
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” –Genesis 1:26
Of course, being human, we can take things too far. Worship of nature, vs worship of the creator of nature, has been with us as long as cave paintings, perhaps longer. The impulse to put nature first comes from an innate desire, a longing, for purity and beauty. Deep down, we know that can only be found in God. Oh, but we always know better than our instincts, don’t we. This is the exact definition of original sin.We’re the smartest, we can figure things out on our own, certainly without God. At least, that’s one reaction. On the flip side, we have the ‘rebellious teen’ attitude. I’ve been given dominion? SWEET! I’m going to do whatever I want, I don’t care about beauty, only what it can do for me. Both of these views are extremes, and both are obviously wrong when viewed like that. I’m going to focus on modern-day examples of both of these, rather than go into things like Druidism (though that does still exist today) or Manifest Destiny.
First, the worship, in a subtle form. How much do you love your pets(s)? Personally, I have two cats, and I really do love them. Will a sick cat keep me from going to Mass? No. Would I run into a burning building to save them? Probably, because I view them as my responsibility. However, would I run into a burning building to save them instead of a complete human stranger? No. But I know people who would. We live in a culture that worships pets, that puts them at the same level as human family. There’s an entire industry that feeds and clothes our pets better than the majority of 3rd world children. Billions of dollars are poured into making sure shivering little chihuahuas get all their vitamins, and their little sweaters, and little boots. Pets, especially dogs, seem to give us that perfect, unconditional love we so desire. It’s much easier to worship an animal. They demand nothing of you, really. If you failed to feed your dog, he would still love you. If you didn’t get your cat that twenty-dollar bed, they’d go on living without loving you less. It’s at the same time more demanding, and less, worshiping God. More demanding in the sense that it requires often drastic life changes, less in the sense that, no matter what, He will always love you. But it hurts Him not to be loved back. Every wound on the cross came from a lack of love. And sometimes, it’s really hard for us to accept that. At least a puppy won’t remind us that we are weak, fallible beings.
Second, we have those who don’t care. People who toss cans out of car windows. People who don’t care that their car’s roiling black cloud of exhaust is going to make others sick. People who don’t respect the beauty and quietness of certain places, or worse, who graffiti petroglyphs and nature preserves. These, every one, also stem from a lack of love. Lack of love for themselves, as well as for God. You cannot say you love God if you despise nature.
And that’s my point, I suppose. God and nature cannot be separated. You can’t have one without the other. Dominion means responsible care, stewardship. It doesn’t mean harm humans in order to preserve natural beauty, and it doesn’t mean harm nature to serve humans. We need to find our balance, and to teach our children to do the same. Love God before all else, and the rest will flow. Trust me, if you respect God, truly and deeply, then respect for nature comes automatically. It’s like admiring someone’s hard work. You don’t want to ruin it, but you also don’t want people to believe that a masterpiece just poofed in out of nowhere. You want the credit to go where it’s due.