Brian Baker

When it comes to spirituality and the climate crisis, I’m more in tune with nature

The current climate crisis and accompanying erratic weather — deadly heat waves in Europe and the high swells in Hawaii — have me thinking about my spirituality.

I’ve never been one for organized religion. I’ll admit to being an apatheist — one who has a general apathy towards the existence or non-existence of god(s).

Three generations of my family have cast a suspicious gaze on organized religion, only reflexively observing Christmas and Easter out of family tradition.

My paternal grandparents were casually Anglican. I don’t think I saw them inside a church, except for a wedding. My maternal grandmother sometimes ambled into a United church, according to my mother. My other grandfather, who died before my birth, was Mennonite. However, he stopped going to church after his mother died.

When someone would tell (the royal) us they had “the power”, our eyes would mimic an interviewed James Harden. Mind you, aside from the eye roll, we would remain unflappable, but deep down addressing the internal dialogue, “Do not engage. Leave the premises and seek immediate shelter.”

One of our family anecdotes involved my paternal grandfather chasing after the poor souls of Jehovah’s Witnesses who dared knock on the door of his home and challenge him, “Are you afraid of the Bible?”

I can hear in my head the screen door slamming shut as my grandfather — a natural pugilist with limited emotional intelligence — bolts through it like a Rottweiler, saying, “God damn sons of bitches!”

I doubt it went down like that, but knowing that generation’s truculent nature, it would’ve been a tense moment for those daring to challenge a WWII POW.

The generational lesson learned from that was to always have a sign on your front door, “No religious peddlers, please.” I guess that was my family’s call to “No junk mail or flyers”.

I too shared my encounters with aggressive Christian groups during my undergrad at the University of Toronto. During my freshman year, before I was invested in archaeology, I remember leaving my Yiddish class late one night and having two group members ask me if I wanted to go to “a party”. I was a commuter and not in the mood to “party”, so I politely declined.

They chided me and asked why. I responded conveniently, having been the only gentile in the Yiddish class, “I’m Jewish.”

Or the time I had to study for an archaeology exam on dating methods, and my born-again Christian friend’s creationist buddy challenged me on C-14 dating while I was hanging around. His claims that it was imperfect were the perfect assistance I needed to get a good mark on the test. I retorted by saying, there is a degree of error and it dates organic matter, so good for 30,000 years give or take a few thousand.

I lost him when I started talking about potassium-argon dating and thermoluminescence dating. Turns out, he put all his fish in one basket. I got an A on the test, by the way.

Anecdotes aside, my spiritual sense was built through an open dialogue with my mom, and my war-bride grandmother’s deep knowledge of nature and the environment. In fairness, a lot of my grandmother’s green actions were a result of rationing during the war, but they are relevant in this time of climate crisis.

Those discussions with my mom stoked my interest in the paranormal. My grandmother’s sharing of her knowledge about plants and birds gave me that passion for nature and she often encouraged my interest in cryptozoology by sending me newspaper clippings.

“The Nature of Things”, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and “All Creatures Great and Small” (1978) formed the foundation of my environmental awareness. I had the first six books from The New Funk and Wagnall Illustrated Wildlife series. And as a teen, I could sit and watch animal shows until my eyes bled. While in university I watched “Acorn, the Nature Nut”, “The Crocodile Hunter” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.

So, for the layman, I’m a worshipper of nature. A treehugger with a penchant for agnosticism.

And when nature is under attack by conservatives or just plain human stupidity, I get my hackles up. The environment is my place of worship. Long hikes. Scenic vistas of lush green alpine climes are my pulpits. Dense forests abound with flora and fauna, my pews.

As a kid, learning about the savannahs of Africa, the brush of Australia or the dunes of the Middle East, was my version of the parables. Faith in God wasn’t something tangible. And there were no references to God. Just the awe of nature and how a bunch of gases ended up creating the wonderment of life on Earth.

I’d have questions about the afterlife, and those would be addressed in discussions with my mom. Never hard yeses, just, “You don’t know until you die.”

And if that’s it, that’s it. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Now, when I started my archaeology undergrad, my skepticism grew. When you’re learning about a bunch of scripts, from different writers, from different eras, in different (dead) languages being thrown together ad hoc by an institution in power, then translated, and subsequently tweaked to meet the needs of schisms, the critical mind tends to say, “Uh, hold on a sec.”

It’s not that I don’t believe Jesus, a.k.a. Yeshua, existed. He did and he was a descendant of King David. There are just the games of “broken telephone” and “lost in translation” involved that add to my skepticism.

That, and humans have this tendency to worship people. The Romans deified their leaders. And it would come as no surprise to me that Yeshua and his followers would be deified too; their message of goodwill manipulated over the millennia to serve a different, more political purpose.

We deify politicians even today. Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi were pivotal in giving their nations freedom and independence from oppression. They are seen as heroes, and rightfully vaunted.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Donald Trump. The former U.S. president is the antithesis of Mandela and Gandhi but is still deified by a misguided few. I’ll just leave it at that.

After all, humans are imperfect.

Now, just because I don’t adhere to organized religion, and admittedly feel a hint of discomfort sitting in a church pew — my wife is Catholic and our kids are going to a Catholic school — it doesn’t mean I am devoid of spirituality or atheist or refrain from the Golden Rule.

I just keep doing me. And I don’t get my hackles up unless provoked. A paraphrased quote often attributed to science fiction writer A.B. Potts resonates with me for this very reason: “I have no problem with God, it’s his fan club I can’t stand”.

It’s the over-zealous few that ruin faith for everyone else.

Not to sound too cynical, but one reason I suspect we’ve gotten ourselves into this climate crisis mess is this line from the Book of Genesis: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

That’s the New International Version, but Genesis 1:26 can be interpreted as humans having dominion over everything, which to me is a farce. Nature is to be lived with, and to be learned from. If that makes me fall more in line with the Indigenous teachings of guardianship, or the harmonious co-existence with nature in Buddhist philosophy, so be it.

I outright reject that we are above nature. Sorry, Rose Sayer, but we are a part of it. If we don’t acknowledge that, our hubris will be punished. And I believe, right now, it is.

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