• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Retributive Justice: Gaia and God

December 2020

Among those minds over which the more outlandish claims of the religious haven’t had their intended sway, and those by whom the fervid pleas of the Apocalypticist, and the urgent warnings of the Millennialist, have been, by and large, rejected or ignored, every last one cringed after hearing the comments made by the late Jerry Falwell—first of a name that’s since been disgraced. In September of 2001, in the wake of Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, Falwell joined his co-religionist, the esteemed Pat Robertson, on the latter’s namesake show.

The eponymous host, little-noted for his impartiality and tact, engaged his guest in a conversation by which, nearly two decades removed, we’re still startled. Like most Americans at the time, whether religiously-inclined or faithlessly-aloof, the two men were attempting to grasp the enormity of what had just taken place. They sought in each other, and in the shared interpretation of their evangelical creed, a rationale by which so extraordinary an event might be better explained. Expanding the culpability for the deaths of those three thousand Americans from whom the promise of a natural life was prematurely stripped, Falwell attributed their fate not just to the terrorists by whom those diverted planes were flown, but to a variety of other causes we might not have otherwise assumed.

With far less subtlety than that by which so striking a proclamation is normally joined, Falwell declared, in so many words, that the attacks of the terrorists, and the thousands of deaths for which their efforts were responsible, were the consequence not solely of radical jihadists and Islamic malcontents, but of God’s wrath. It was, in so many words, a swift and terrible divine response, an answer of which our ongoing impiety and decadence was clearly deserving. Sensitive to the changing emotional state of the Creator, and the human nettles by which his lofty anger might be provoked, Falwell confidently stated that, “God will not be mocked”.

No? Certainly, a close reading of the Old Testament wouldn’t lead a man away from so obvious a theological truth. What was witnessed on the 11th of September, he said, could be “miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve”. The italics, of course, are my humble addition to his inflammatory quote. We invite God’s wrath, he maintained, when we tolerate the legal killing of unborn children and permit the “pagans, abortionists, homosexuals, and feminists”—by which, in his thinking, our population is corrupted—to go unpunished as they dance along their merry secular way.

A few years later, now in the wake of a veritable force majeure, a catastrophe of nature by which the great city of New Orleans was doused, ravaged, and almost wiped away, Robertson expanded on Falwell’s earlier theme. Hurricane Katrina had recently razed that bourbon-soaked, bead-laden city to the ground and, again, the televangelist sought explanations outside the merely blind destruction at which hurricanes, through all ages, have proven themselves so menacingly adept. He looked for reasons beyond the absent foresight of local politicians and the engineering incompetence of well-paid urban planners in hopes of understanding the storm’s distant origin and its acutely painful impact.

As it turns out, Robertson wasn’t forced to look very far. At the time, the distinguished John Roberts—now the apostate “conservative” Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—was embarking upon his confirmation hearing. The political, as well as the religious world was consumed with that delicate subject by which all such hearings, at least since the mid-1970s, have been contentiously defined: the Constitutional legitimacy of the right of a woman legally to obtain an abortion. The fact that our society, at least at the time of his comments, held so permissive a view when it came said woman’s choice to terminate that bothersome clump of cells by whom her uterus was so rudely inconvenienced, angered Robertson in no small way. In his flight of passion, carried on the wings of his faith, he blamed the issue as having contributed to Hurricane Katrina.

Both men, first Falwell and then Robertson, were widely, if not unanimously criticized for the untimeliness and audacity of their claims. In fact, the rejection of their statements was one of the closest things to a bipartisan event. This, in an age when such a concept was admittedly rare, but not yet completely unknown, as it might be deemed today. The Right, long accustomed to offering them considerable defense, blushed at having once entertained their zeal. President Bush recoiled at the sentiment, and was eager to put distance between himself and them. The Left, increasingly irreligious, took particular pleasure in chastising their tactless theological points of view. These evangelical Christian conservatives, who were to be heard spouting filth about our culpability for radical terrorist attacks, or suggesting our deserts for a deadly weather event, delivered themselves over to the tender mercy of their contempt. And it was contempt they rightfully received.

Lately, especially within the span of the past six months, claims reminiscent of those made by Falwell and Robertson—the same type upon which such criticism was poured and disgust emptied—have found utterance yet again. Yet this time, the public figures by whom so similar a cast sentiments have been given voice aren’t the devout Christian conservatives and kindred fellows of the GOP, but the woke symbols of progressivism and political celebrity of the radical Left.

As historic wildfires burned through California, that golden state toward which countless dreams still turn, Nancy Pelosi—congresswoman from San Francisco and Speaker of the House—reflected on how so terrible a situation might’ve come to be. While ignoring the inconvenient fact that there were, at least at the hour of the conflagration, nearly sixty-seven million dead trees protected from controlled-burning and careful removal, a veritable heap of tinder in the parched heat of the late summer in and atop which so many precious bugs and critters had established little homes, and while looking beyond the glaring truth that this is, and shall continue to be, a problem for which the ingenuity of forest management, endowed with the divine gift of combustion for which the great Titan-humanitarian, Prometheus, was so mercilessly punished, is uniquely well-equipped, she claimed that the source of our misfortune was Mother Nature’s wrath.

Ah yes. Mother Nature, unbound.

“Mother Earth”, she asserted, “is angry”. How fortunate of the Catholic daughter of Baltimore to enjoy so direct a line of correspondence to the varied moods and changing passions of a remote Olympian goddess. Countless others have wasted their years in trying to penetrate the mystery of her pagan whim. Pelosi seems to have succeeded where they all failed. She appears to have communed with the mind of Gaia, the primordial, maternal Grecian deity with whom her Roman Church’s founding doctors might have taken serious issue. Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and even Gregory the Great (to say nothing of the current pope) would’ve failed to see the charm in Pelosi’s strange appeal to a pagan god.

More than simply sensing Gaia’s anger, however, Pelosi elaborated on the nature and the source of her ire. “She’s telling us”, Pelosi divined, “whether she’s telling us with hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, fires in the west, whatever it is, that the climate crisis is real and has an impact”. One might expect a Greek to state her feelings with greater eloquence, poetry, and meter. Of an octogenarian, power-hungry politician, this might be too large a task.

From the queen of the American Congress, to Great Britain’s prodigal prince, a similar sentiment was echoed by his royal highness, Harry.

During an interview with the executives of WaterBear, a new, online-streaming platform to which every anxious environmentalist can now retreat, the expatriate prince stated that “Somebody said to me at the beginning of the pandemic…it’s almost as though Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms for bad behavior…to really take a moment and think about what we’ve done”. He went on to say that this pandemic reminded him, “About how interconnected we all are, not just as people, but through nature”. He further waxed poetic, stricken, doubtless, by the spirit of Whitman and Thoreau (as all newly-arrived Americans are) when he wondered, “What if every single one of us was a raindrop? And if every single one of us cared, which we do, because we have to care because at the end of the day nature is our life source”. In our collective moisture, and the fullness of our heavy precipitation, we might join, selflessly, in a shared effort to relieve the parched ground above which, in haughty clouds, we’d otherwise rest.

The empiricism of his countrymen, from Locke, to Hume, to Mill, to Russell, seems entirely to be lost in him. A Pelosi-style “Mother Nature” paganism seems to have taken its lofty place.

Should he retain, however, even a spark of that seemingly dead philosophy to which his nation once gave birth, burdened, though it is, by the annoying use of such old and heavy tools as sense perception, induction, science, and the gathering of facts, he’d sooner realize that Mother Nature’s involvement with this current pandemic isn’t quite so manifestly clear.

Is not Wuhan a word with which, by this point in time, the Eton alumnus has been fully acquainted, that quiet city from whose supposedly pristine virology institute, this novel disease first leaked? Does he not realize that this disease attributes its origins not to the punitive wrath of Gaia, capable and fertile mother though she is, but to the malign experimentations of man, by whom every type of destructive novelty for the past few millennia has been conceived? And who, on his account, is being sent to his or her room for having provoked Gaia’s displeasure—the Chinese Communist Party officials by whom the outbreak and dissemination of this virus was both exacerbated and concealed, or those who disagree with his particular take on the perilous state of the climate?

Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Nancy Pelosi, and Prince Harry—however disparate in their politics, and incongruous in their faiths, when it comes to their treatment of natural disasters or blights instigated by man, they’ll forever be, in my opinion, joined together. I think that, and that alone, is the extent of their interconnectedness. For the rest of us, may we look upon the world with sobriety, not as zealots with an agenda, but as seekers after truth.

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