I hope the strange and personal aspects of the following won’t put anyone off too much. It’s a little more serious than I usually am on this blog. Apologies up front.
In the early eighties as a BYU student I had ear-marked part of my paycheck to help save the whales. Since then, ‘save the whales’ as become so hackneyed that even unswerving environmentalists smile at the kitschy phrase. But at the time I really was concerned with protecting these great creatures (and still am actually). It was being reported in the news at the time that the great blue whale and many other species of marine mammals were on the verge of extinction and urgent action was needed. However, at the same time that I became aware of the whales’ crisis, a movement called Food for Poland had just been launched at BYU by one of my heroes, Eugene England, to alleviate Regan’s suspension of aid to the bedraggled satellite of the Soviet Empire. The movement became the causa sine qua non for student activists. I was torn. I wanted to help, but what about the whales? On my meager student budget, I could not afford both causes and the logic that ‘weren’t starving people always more important than any animal?’ tore me in two. How could I in good conscience step away from my responsibility to succor my hungry brothers and sisters in what was an obvious need? I wrestled and twisted on the horns of the dilemma of which cause I should support and I could not seem to feel satisfied at choosing either good at the expense of the other. Finally I decided to pray about it. I suppose I went into the prayer thinking that the Lord would tell me to support the people of Poland. It seemed somehow obviously improper to put creatures above the spirit children of God. As I prayed however, I was immersed in a profoundly affective spiritual experience. It was as if my mind’s-eye were opened to how God viewed the whales—as if a corner of His mind were present to me. This is hard to explain, but I sensed He loved them. More than that, I knew He knew each of them as individuals, as if He knew their names and cherished them deeply—not as possessions nor pets nor useful creatures nor lesser beings of any kind. He seemed to esteem them as fellow beings. Sibling creatures of dignity and worth. I staggered to my feet, found I was crying, and wrote a check to the Save the Whales Foundation.
The ‘vision’ (and that is how I represent it to myself, recognizing its personal and incommunicable aspects and meaning) has dimmed in impact and memory, but I have never forgotten the experience and while I recognize this was not your revelation, I wanted to share it because it profoundly changed the way I looked at nature and its creatures and motivated my interest and eventual decision to become an ecologist. I wish I could say that I have lived up to that experience, but I have fallen short in many ways. But I now feel somehow I need to embrace that experience more fully. It deserves my attention and reverence.
Can we really claim that we think God is creator when we seem not to care much about that creation? Does the fact that it was given for our ‘use’ translate into a license to exploit? What if God really does care about our fellow creatures as fellow travelers through existence? How would that change our world if we really took that seriously. What if the greed we’ve seen in the recent financial crisis is a symptom of our exploitive attitude? Grasping at the treasures of the Earth always comes at the expense of that Earth. But, hey, we have Armies and Navies to buy up. Why should we deny ourselves the treasures of the Earth when they are there for our use? Drill. Drill. Drill.