Creation mythology and modern environmental apocalypse

Creation mythology and modern environmental apocalypse

Creation mythology and modern environmental apocalypse
Apocalyptic painter John Martin’s “The Last Man” (Oil on canvas, 1849 – The Walker Gallery)

The first thing to realize about the biblical Creation story in the first two chapters of Genesis — the mythology and its earlier roots in Sumeria have shaped the fundamental thinking of Western cultures — is that a beginning also implies an ending.

This may explain our ability as a culture to be relatively unconcerned about the threat of an environmental apocalypse. The expectation of an ending is built into the way the Western mind thinks, made inevitable by the beginning that inhabits the other pole of its mythology. This is one of many ideas thoughtfully explored by Susan Murphy in her fascinating book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis.

The original Eden, Murphy explains, was an idyllic place, existing in a suspended state of perfection where birth and death did not occur, where pain and suffering were absent, where predator and prey mingled in peace, and where the undivided wholeness of Divine Grace had not yet been broken into confusing components by Adam’s and Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

The Fall

All this is lost when Adam and Eve succumb to temptation. Not only are the two sinners evicted from the Garden, but the innocence of Eden is also lost. The Fall is total. Nature’s state of suspended perfection is shattered. The thoughtless harmony of the unsullied beginning collapses. Predators now kill prey. Change and impermanence are unleashed. Pain and suffering must be endured as a punishment.

In this fallen world, the sexual urge — not that different from the temptation that lured Adam and Eve to the forbidden fruit — becomes the source of birth and then the haunting shadow of promised death. Having been cast out of Paradise, humanity must now live its numbered days in a homeless state of conscious remorse and guilt, adrift in a hostile and ruined place where its only power is to name and subdue nature while surviving as best we can. This is the situation at the end of the Old Testament.

No reprieve for Eden

The New Testament provides salvation for the fallen. God manifests in the wreckage of Eden in the form of Jesus, who promises salvation by dying for humanity’s original sin. All is forgiven in his death, resurrection and ascension. So the descendants of Adam and Eve can escape their guilt and humiliation through belief. The curse from disobedience is lifted, an eternal reprieve from death and suffering is granted, and a return to the paradise of Heaven once more guarantees the company and order of the Divine Presence.

Except this forgiveness is not granted to nature. No reprieve is offered to Eden. The birds of the air and the fishes of the sea, the beasts of the fields and the predators that devour them are not returned to their original, uncorrupted state. They remain in their fallen condition with no promise of salvation. The natural world in which humanity must live is not restored to its initial perfection but continues in its debased and spoiled form.

Saved Humanity, unredeemed world

This creates an inherent and profound dichotomy between a saved humanity and an unredeemed world. Although humanity is on Earth, it is no longer of Earth. The original oneness in Eden is not mended. Humanity’s sense of accord with nature has been expunged, first by disobedience and then by the promise of salvation. Each event has increased the disconnection, while distancing humanity from its obligation to care for Creation.

A fallen, ephemeral and chaotic nature of incessant struggle exists only to be used and abandoned on the way to humanity’s eventual salvation. The final Ending that is anticipated by the only Beginning — the inevitable Armageddon, whatever its form — will be the last cleansing of the imperfect before everything is returned to the eternally perfect.

Nature doubly victimized

Nature, therefore, is doubly victimized: first by the Fall — of which it is wholly innocent — and then by the impending apocalypse, of which it is also wholly innocent. In this story, Earth and all the marvels of Creation are only a stage upon which the human drama of sin, redemption and salvation occurs.

In the interim, between the very Beginning and the very Ending, an imperfect nature is merely present to be used by an exceptional humanity that will, by the certainty of belief and the promise of salvation, eventually escape the bonds of its sin. At the final reckoning, whatever remains of a tattered, exploited and abused nature, will be restored by the wisdom of Divine intervention. Despite the devastation, all will be fixed and all will be well.

Unconscious mythology

These are not thoughts that lie close to the surface of human awareness. As with each mythology, its unspoken assumptions are mostly hidden in the secret recesses of its stories, rarely explained in their undisguised form because they are too close to the core of a culture’s identity to be articulated. Although ordinarily unnoticed, they are nonetheless so fundamental that they are responsible for shaping and directing most thought, attitudes and behaviour.

A culture’s mythology only comes to the surface of its own consciousness during times of upheaval and crisis: when circumstances become dire, when questions become profound, when doubt becomes intense, when urgency becomes fear, when the search for new meaning is forced to venture into places never before explored.

This is the situation in which Western culture now finds itself. The old mythology is stressed and failing. It is being examined, exposed and challenged in a rebuilding process that is usually long, arduous and painful. So some thinkers, such as Susan Murphy, are returning to the beginning to understand what is amiss, and how we might find a new way forward.


About Ray Grigg

Ray Grigg is in his ninth year as a weekly environmental columnist for the Campbell River Courier-Islander on BC's Vancouver Island. Before this column, titled Shades of Green - now appearing on as well - Ray wrote a bi-weekly environmental column for five years. He is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. His academic background is in English literature, psychology, cultural history, and philosophy. He has travelled to some 45 countries around the globe.

3 thoughts on “Creation mythology and modern environmental apocalypse

  1. Creation mythology in Genesis is not about the creation of nature and the universe; it’s about the arrival and survival of the most intolerant human species ever evolved, the narrative traces of which are discernible in the Biblical story—but just barely; small wonder: the original is almost 200,000 years old, about seventy-fold older than Genesis.

    Eden represents all that is unnatural and manmade; there was never any room in there for our non-sapiens ancestors or their common hybrids who we sapiens used to, for a short while, coexist and interbreed with ourselves. Genesis is a redaction of the original taboo against interbreeding with these other human species and hybrids; God, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are all eponymic allegories that twist what was once an edict to genetically preserve the linguistically endowed sapiens upstart by initially forbidding continued interspecific breeding, but which, over eons of retelling, evolved into an ethos of genocide, the elimination of “the other” human species, and eventually anything else that competed with sapiens, even long after “the other” humans had been wiped out.

    It truly became “myth”, that is, fanciful, after those other species and hybrids had been wiped out (which happened almost immediately, in geological terms), and persisted only by the fostering of intolerance now practiced with the illusory logic of racism within the sapiens genome. It was inevitable the distinctive sapiens faculty for language would develop into literacy (out of orality), and it’s no co-incidences that that it happened concurrently with the rise of agriculture (the allegory is in Genesis’ Cain and Abel), with its related amplified ethos of eliminating competition. To maintain control over such a dangerously intolerant species, packed so closely together in early civilized society, the ancient sapiens survival strategy that had morphed over millennia into license to dominate and subdue all of nature had to be reworked into the so-called “creation myths” with which we are historically familiar—only now the first sapiens were portrayed as gods, and our killer instinct as fulfilment of their commands. It is in fact a propagandistic perversion of that ancient edict to exterminate the “natural” human species which takes full advantage of the upstart sapiens’ faculty of language–and that’s what became license to destroy ultimately all of nature; the rest rationalizes the obvious problem.

    Language facilitates deception. Thus the story of Jesus was deceptively co-opted for pluto-ecclesiastic purpose—and it was relatively easy in a society long inured to sapiens’ supremacy myth and its attendant hubris. In reality, Jeshua preached against 200 millennia of the ethos of intolerance which, had it been possible to achieve, would have ameliorated environmental destruction sapiens supremacists are enraptured with. The redactors of the powerful gave us instead a heaven achievable, supposedly, by faith alone, and cut loose the possibility of saving nature by reforming sapiens conduct, as Jeshua had preached, which said, in fact: stop hating your non-sapiens neighbours. His “life everlasting” means, allegorically, an enduring chain of custody, inheritance of living DNA, as opposed to the certain destruction, symptomatic even is his day, of the survivable planet, maintained by self-satisfying sapiens supremacy literarily acculturated from the long oral distortion of the original edict to exterminate the non-sapiens which became license to subdue all of nature.

    We can see this now not because we’ve come to an inevitable crisis of survival with global finality—but because the creation myths can now be busted scientifically and forensically. The Question remains if we can progress intellectually out of our misguided spirituality, the ingrained habit of destruction sanctioned by fairy tales that serve an enraptured elite.

    These steps that took us down a destructive path: the first mutants, hybrids or inbreds with robust linguistic faculty sought to isolate themselves from the fabric of hominid diversity, possibly by circumstance, but eventually by the diktat of interbreeding taboo; by isolation, either circumstantial or by design, the taboo became intensified; by the passage of time, the taboo became rationalized into narratives easily remembered and handed down; the narratives themselves intensified to include not only the prohibition of interbreeding, but the preclusion of it by exterminating the other human species; since the narratives themselves were distortions, victims could not be accurately recognized or targeted, leading therefore to insurance measures which effectively targeted sapiens on the weight of superficial, but normal, variation in appearance, thus perpetuating extermination and its narrative long after other human species had been wiped out; this pattern persisted for 98% of sapiens existence, changing—or intensifying, with the related developments of literacy, agriculture and civilization; from this point the rationalizing myths required to control society were developed and redacted as needed up to recent times; by the agencies of science and technology, the pace of sapiens subduction of nature has enabled also the debunking of the civilized mythologies—but not without hold outs, even among supposedly logical, dispassionate scientists—many remain to this day locked in controversy about so-called “non-human” genes in our constitutions (more properly, non-sapiens genes); vehement rejection of this evidence from parts of the scientific community illustrates the deep-rootedness of the previous myths; the facts seem clear that the simplistic, mythically biased models of “human” evolution” are about to be refined, as all good science should—the dust had barely settled on the Neanderthal-sapiens hypothesis, when “Denisovans” appeared—then others yet unnamed. Meanwhile adherents of the Bible still hold powerful offices and influence that bias notions of human purpose for selfish purpose. For this to work, we need either to maintain the unbroken chain of genetic custody by complete artifice (which technically is possible but impractical), or believe in a heavenly redoubt to run to when we inevitably make this planet uninhabitable. That’s what myths are for.

  2. Intersting theory with one flaw.
    There are numerous people out there that do NOT believe in Heaven, Hell, Eden, the afterlife, etc.
    So, how do we explain their view of the future?
    Perhaps I can explain with a personal example.
    Several years ago I was washing my car while my neighbor washed his with his 5 year old daughter. She worshipped her father. They were laughing and playing while they washed his car. An excellent Saturday. Then he asked me a question about Life Insurance that was being offered at his workplace.
    “Why should I buy Life Insurance?”, was his question.
    “Well, if you died, your daughter and wife would be financially secure and wouldnt have to worry.” I answered.
    “But I’m dead!” ,was his matter of fact reply, ” I wont care what happens to them…I’ll be dead.”
    I was flabbergasted. Here was his daughter standing next to him, completely oblivious to the subject of our conversation. Looking up at him like he was the greatest man alive.

    Now if we multiply that sense of noncommitment to encompass corporate environmental strategy for the long term future………
    We are in deep trouble.
    If the leaders of companies dont care about the environment 20 ,50 100 years down the road because ” Who cares, I’ll be dead.Someone else will deal with it”.

    Perhaps Englands’ new financial rules for corporate profit for the leaders of companies who “quit and run with golden handshakes” that allow those profits/payouts/whatever can be clawed back up to 7 years after a leader leaves a company.

    Maybe countries all over the world should look at environmental “claw backs”. So, if a person is worth millions, or billions of dollars and even after they die their money(estate) can still be tracked, accessed, and seized.
    Not possible you say?
    What about BC’s environmental assesment laws. Property that has changed hands numerous times and if pollution from years ago is found …..the old, original owners/pollutors can be found liable.

    Time to make industry sit up and take notice the only way we can. Through profit and loss.

    Unfortunately this would take world wide agreement since the weather knows no borders.

    I wont hold my breath for a solution but….. if nothing changes… 100 years …..everyone may be holding their breath.

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